The New York Times on drugs, fatalities and casinos in US racing. A hard but necessary read.
Melodeeman, a 10-year-old thoroughbred, had earned a rest.
He raced gallantly for six owners. He set a track record at Aqueduct for the fastest five and a half furlongs and earned more than $250,000 in his career. He raced even after a broken leg was put back together with three stainless-steel screws.
But by the evening of Jan. 21, 2010, Melodeeman had hit the bottom of the racing world. As the temperature hovered near freezing at Penn National, he prepared to compete among the lowest quality thoroughbreds.
In a different time, Melodeeman might have skipped this race, or retired altogether. Not now. Not here. Profits from the track’s casino had fattened the purse to $18,000, far more than the $4,000 for which each horse could be purchased, or claimed — precisely the kind of cost disparity that prominent veterinarians had warned against.
Eager to get in on the action, three people filed claims to buy three horses in the race.
No one tried to buy Melodeeman.
According to one exercise rider who saw the horse well before the race, Melodeeman was clearly lame. But Melodeeman raced anyhow that evening.
Turning for home, his front legs buckled, sending his jockey, Angel Quinones, flying. Melodeeman had snapped his right cannon bone and was euthanized at the track, almost four years to the day after he set his Aqueduct record.
State regulators were suspicious. Other horses belonging to the same owner, Michael Gill, had been breaking down in large numbers, and jockeys were complaining.
A subsequent necropsy revealed that Melodeeman not only had degenerative joint disease in the lower part of his two front legs, but that his fatal fracture occurred next to the earlier break mended with three screws. The examiners were concerned enough to have snapped a color photograph of the screws.
A prohibited sedative, fluphenazine, was also found in Melodeeman’s brain, according to records obtained by The Times. Fluphenazine can calm a horse that becomes agitated because of discomfort or injury, according to two veterinarians.
Considerably more coverage to be found here.
UPDATE: further to the NYT piece, here’s USA Today reporting that Kentucky, the very home of US horse racing, may have to resort to on-track casinos if it’s to maintain its racing schedules. And NPR on the NYT reporters’ methods.