by Max Brantley
The New York Times has a gruesome report today on thoroughbred horse racing in the era of a proliferation of race track casinos. The dramatic increase in horse race purses from the casino money has encouraged racing by unfit horses dosed heavily with pain medication.
To survive amid a riot of new, technologically advanced gambling options, track owners have increasingly succumbed to the gambling industry’s offer to sweeten racing purses with slot machine revenue. But if casinos promise to prop up a struggling sport, they can also erode the loyalty that owners and trainers feel toward their horses, turning them, in the words of Maggi Moss, a leading owner, into “trading cards for people’s greed.”
The casinos’ impact is greatest at the sport’s low end, the so-called claiming races, a world away from the bluegrass pageantry of Saturday’s Kentucky Derby. In the claiming ranks — where some of the cheapest horses fill starting gates at tracks like Aqueduct, Penn National, near Harrisburg, Pa., and Evangeline Downs in Louisiana — the casino money has upset the traditional racetrack balance of risk and reward.
Oaklawn Park in Hot Springs isn't mentioned in the report.