If the colt I’ll Have Another had become the first Triple Crown winner since Affirmed in 1978, the victory would have drawn attention to the joys of the sport and away from concerns about doping and other forms of mistreatment. Instead, I’ll Have Another was scratched Friday from the Belmont Stakes because of a leg injury, underscoring the difficulty of winning the Triple Crown — and refocusing news coverage and public discussion on the risks that racehorses face.
Whatever happens at the Belmont on Saturday, track owners and racing commissions need to clean up a poorly regulated business that too often neglects the welfare of the horses that are the stars of the show.
The remedies for racing’s woes are hardly mysterious. Above all, there needs to be a single national body to set uniform rules for all racing jurisdictions. Those rules should include a ban on all race-day medications. The analgesic painkillers and anti-bleeding medications so common at American tracks are regularly prohibited in Europe and Asia. Horses that race in those places stay sounder and healthier. Fans who watch and wager on drug-free horses can be more confident they are not being cheated — and are not contributing to an enterprise that may leave its star performers lame and traumatized.
Understandably, trainers get the blame when a horse is found to be racing with banned substances. Veterinarians, however, are usually the ones who administer the concoctions meant to enhance performance and avoid detection. If offending vets were named and shamed, and if they were subject to strict penalties including loss of license, there would likely be a sharp decline in horses being treated with cobra venom or lung dilators meant for premature infants.
One way or another, the sport of thoroughbred racing is in need of rehabilitation.
An earlier version of this story had the wrong name for the horse that won this year’s Kentucky Derby and Preakness Stakes.