Two-time Eclipse Award winning writer Joe Drape and investigative journalist Walt Bogdanich of the New York Times published yet another unflattering article this week on American horse racing titled “Records Show Triple Crown Contender Had History of Ailments.” NBC-TV aired a segment on the article during the Wednesday edition of Nightly News with Brian Williams (with a graphic picture of the injured Eight Belles after the 2008 Kentucky Derby). NBC is, of course, the network for the Triple Crown telecasts.
The Times’ article appears to have serious flaws in research methodology and reporting that the authors need to address and clarify. To illustrate, three quotes from the article are shown below, followed by my brief queries and comments.
“I’ll Have Another, the horse attempting to become the first Triple Crown winner in 34 years, had physical ailments well before he was withdrawn from the June 9 Belmont Stakes on the eve of the race, and he was being treated with painkillers and anti-inflammatory drugs…”
Don’t most racehorses (and human athletes) have physical ailments? Aren’t painkillers and anti-inflammatory drugs generally accepted veterinarian practices for osteoarthritis? Why didn’t the Times include a balance of veterinarian views on these questions?
According to three licensed racetrack veterinarians consulted by the Blood-Horse “I’ll Have Another’s Treatment [was] Routine Care.” Dr. Foster Northrop said: “What was done with him [I’ll Have Another] is actually less than is done with some horses.”
“…only two days before the Belmont, which I’ll Have Another needed to win to complete his Triple Crown quest, the colt was injected with two powerful painkillers as well as a synthetic joint fluid, the records show.”
Numerous reputable medical websites state that administering painkillers and joint fluid are two commonly used methods for treating osteoarthritis in humans. Moreover, these expert sources indicate that painkillers can be non-narcotic (e.g., Tylenol) or narcotic. Shouldn’t Mr. Drape and Mr. Bogdanich have provided specifics on just what “two powerful painkillers” were administered to I’ll Have Another?
The colt’s veterinary records–that the Blood-Horse put online–show that he was given phenylbutazone (a non-narcotic), Polyglycan (a fluid replacement), and Dexamethasone (a corticosteriod). Where exactly were the “two powerful painkillers” listed in the vet report that the Times’ story said were used to treat I’ll Have Another’s osteoarthritis? (To see the vet record click here and then click again on the link provided in the article.)
“Twenty-four horses a week die at the nation’s racetracks, according to an analysis by The Times, and they break down or show signs of injury at the rate of 5.1 per 1,000 starts. This past winter, 30 horses died at Aqueduct racetrack in New York, a 100 percent increase in the fatality rate over the same period the previous year. Many of the horses had been injected repeatedly with pain medication in the days and weeks before their breakdowns, according to a review of veterinary records by The Times.”
Are the veterinary records of racehorses open for public review and inspection in most states? How did the Times gain access to the records “at the nation’s racetracks” and how many records did they review to warrant the generalization that “many of the horses had been injected repeatedly with pain medication in the days and weeks before their breakdowns…?” Lastly, why was the word “many” not quantified? Does “many” mean 20%, 30%, or 50%?
As with the previous articles by Mr. Drape and Mr. Bogdanich, the underlying research methodology is faulty and the analyses and reporting lack balance and sufficient explanation of key assertions, which leaves the impression—accurate or not–that the authors are conducting a vendetta against horse racing, for whatever reasons.
The influential New York Times has squandered a golden opportunity to present a series of reasoned and balanced articles that advance the cause of much-needed drug reform in American horse racing. Regretably, instead, the focus has been diverted from the message to the motives and competencies of the messengers.
Copyright © 2012 Horse Racing Business