Why horse racing is so dangerous

Nearly 500 Thoroughbred racehorses died in the U.S. in 2018. Here’s why.

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Racehorses—like these, racing at the 2017 Preakness Stakes in Baltimore, Maryland—frequently die as a result of limb injuries.

Editor's note: This story was originally published May 17, 2019. It has been updated.

Despite its popularity, horse racing is a dangerous sport for both horse and jockey. In the first four weeks of the race season, five horses have died at Santa Anita Park, a California racetrack, including three in as many days over Martin Luther King Day weekend.

In the U.S., 493 Thoroughbred racehorses died in 2018, according to the Jockey Club’s Equine Injury Database. (Data for 2019 have not been released yet.) From December 2018 to late January 2020, more than 40 of those deaths were at Santa Anita Park.

In fact, most of the horse deaths at Santa Anita Park in recent months were due to limb injuries.

Rick Arthur, equine medical director for the California Horse Racing Board, says the deaths may be because horse racing has become more competitive.

Horses aren’t getting the rest they need, especially in temperate places like southern California, where the animals race year-round, he says. ( Read how horses are evolving to be faster.)

“It’s hard to keep an athlete absolutely at the top of their fitness 12 months out of the year.”

The unprecedented spate of fatalities at Santa Anita has also placed renewed focus on the safety of the sport.

For instance, in March 2019, bipartisan U.S. lawmakers introduced a federal bill, the Horseracing Integrity Act of 2019, that...

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