At tracks across America, majestic race horses compete for big-money prizes. But while horse racing may be known at the sport of kings, at race tracks across the country, there is a dirty little secret. Each week, an average 24 horses are being put down and many have to be euthanized right on the track, after suffering horrific injuries.
At a West Virginia race track a few weeks ago, one horse fell during a race, causing six others and their jockeys to fall on top of each other. It looked just like a car pile-up on a highway.
During a race at New York's Aqueduct track the front leg of a horse snapped in full stride, throwing the jockey off the horse's back. Remarkably, the horse continued to run despite his injury. He later had to be euthanized.
According to a recent investigation by the New York Times, 3,600 horses have died while racing or training at tracks in the last three years. Sometimes it happens in front of millions of fans watching on national television.
In 2006, at The Preakness, Triple Crown favorite, Barbaro, broke three bones in his right hind leg. After a serious of unsuccessful surgeries, the thoroughbred had to be euthanized.
The New York Times found, some injuries are the result of the overuse of drugs, used to either numb the pain of existing injuries so the horse can race, or to enhance performance. Some race horses have even reportedly been given illegal drugs such as snake venom, to mask the pain of injuries or Viagra to make the horses run faster.
INSIDE EDITION's Lisa Guerrero spoke to Mark Verge, the CEO of Santa Anita Race Track near Los Angeles. "Do you agree that the industry needs to be concerned about the amount of horses that have been breaking down?"
"There's no doubt," Verge said.
Verge admits that some race horse owners may be pushing their horses beyond their physical limits. "That has to be our number one concern. You lose a horse, especially with these animals that you put so much time, money and love – you have to address it. We have problem. I'm not going to sit here and say we don't."
And, it's not just the horses that are being injured. Jockeys are also at risk of serious injury when horses break down. Some have been left paralyzed for life, and a handful have also been killed.
To add insult to injury, when some horses break down and die, they are sometimes put out like garbage. In New Mexico, a two-year old quarter horse broke down during a race and had to be euthanized. Later, his body was found dumped in a junkyard – a far cry from the glory and grandeur of the winner's circle.
Now, the prestigious Jockey Club has proposed a ban on the use of drugs for horses on race day. And, some members of Congress are also calling for national laws governing the sport.