Earlier today the racehorse Admire Rakti dropped dead in its stall just minutes after racing for the Melbourne Cup. The five-year old horse succumbed to, possibly, the “rupture of a major blood vessel in the heart or lungs... during heavy exertion in the 3200m race,” says the Gold Coast Bulletin.
“The fact the horse stopped racing three quarters of the way through but still made it back to the stalls indicates it was probably a ruptured blood vessel. If it was heart attack it probably would have died on the spot,” he said.
The Melbourne Cup is one of the world's premiere horse racing events, and Admire Rakti was a favorite to win. That makes this horse's death a shock. But horses dying during or after races is incredibly common. Admire Rakti wasn't even the only horse to die at this year's Melbourne Cup.
According to Ward Young, the director of the Coalition for the Protection of Racehorses, writes Australia's The Age, “129 horses died on Australian race tracks between August last year and July this year - one horse every 2.9 days.”
This isn't unique to Australia. Since 1986, 60 horses have died from the chuckwagon races held at the annual Calgary Stampede. In a span of just two weeks, eight horses died on a Southern California track, says Yahoo, drawing the attention of horseracing authorities. At this year's Saratoga Race Course meet in Saratoga Springs, New York, 11 horses died, up over eight deaths last year. In the United Kingdom, says Animal Aid, “around 400 are raced to death every year.”
In some cases, like Admire Rakti, the horses are killed by health problems and exertion. In others, they break a leg or suffer some other injury and are put down—sometimes right on the track. At a race in Doncaster, England, a few months ago a top horse shattered its leg. A temporary blind was brought onto the course so people couldn't see as the horse was shot on the spot.
The U.S. is no better, writes Cat Ferguson: “For every thousand horses that break from the gate in the U.S., two will die—that’s twenty-four a week on average.”
Many are euthanized on the track, shielded from the crowd’s prying eyes by a barrier, or a few hours later, when a vet determines there is no hope. Some deaths are the unpreventable consequences of sport, heaving bodies jostling in tight turns and surging limbs tangling on fast tracks. But others stem from preexisting injuries, missed by trainers or caught and then masked by powerful drugs.
Most of these deaths are barely acknowledged, wrote the New York Times in 2012:
Many are inexpensive horses racing with little regulatory protection in pursuit of bigger and bigger prizes. These deaths often go unexamined, the bodies shipped to rendering plants and landfills rather than to pathologists who might have discovered why the horses broke down.
Scientists are working on ways to reduce horse deaths, writes Ferguson, but the big problem, says the Times, is cultural:
[I]ndustry practices continue to put animal and rider at risk. A computer analysis of data from more than 150,000 races, along with injury reports, drug test results and interviews, shows an industry still mired in a culture of drugs and lax regulation and a fatal breakdown rate that remains far worse than in most of the world.