When the New York Times Attacks


DISCLAIMER:  The Pink Flamingo knows almost nothing about horse racing.  All I know is that my mother enjoys it.  The other part of this that I do know is that I live within loud-speaker distance of the Ruidoso Downs Racetrack.  Years ago, I went to one race, just to show my nieces and nephew and their cousins what it looked like.  That’s it.  I drive past the track every time I go anywhere to the south of me.

Tomorrow I will features photos to disprove the story.

First, the NY Times stated that a horse, which had to be put down, was thrown in a junk yard near where it was sold at auction the year before.  I hate to mention this, but I live right about said location – said pavilion.  There is NO junkyard down there.  There is a junk yard, but – in order to reach it, one must drive OUT Of the area around the track, and below me, and up onto Hwy. 70, go several miles, then turn onto Gavilan Canyon Road.

It is a geographical impossibility, but the NYTimes is always, right, right?  I suspect what the all-knowing NY Times was discussing the area to the south of the track, where the stables are.  There’s a problem with this photo.  If you live in Ruidoso you will instantly recognize the problem.

NM Watchdog

About a year ago, we had a major fire that swept right up to the race track.  It came within about 250 feet of where I lived.  The photo above shows very nice greenery.  The problem, and I took note of it on Monday, was that, all around the track, everything is charred and thinned.

On Friday, I drove around the track, getting some photos to prove the point.  I have driven back behind the track, looking around.  There is no way this photo is accurate.  The trees are too lush and green.  Granted, the photos I have are from this time of year, but you will get the point.

Second, and something I never thought about, it’s the altitude, stupid.  Horses have the same breathing problems that people do. My extremely fit sister has horrible problems when she visits.  So do two of her children.  Where the track is, is nearly 7,000 feet above sea level.  I’ve lived here for so long, I don’t pay attention to it.  But, I gather this is one of the highest elevation tracks in the country.

Ruidoso Free Press

“…The data reveal a grim picture of the abuse of horses as the US racing industry struggles to stay in business. Jockeys are also exposed to tremendous dangers: The New York Times article opens and closes with a portrait of national champion jockey Jacky Martin, who broke his neck in three places in a claiming race and will now most likely spend the rest of his life on a respirator. In September 2011, Martin’s horse broke a leg at the start of a race and was euthanized; the next day, another horse, Teller All Gone, broke a leg at the same track, Ruidoso Downs Race Track in New Mexico’s Sacramento Mountains. Teller All Gone’s body was discarded in a junkyard beside an old toilet, near where he had been sold in an auction the year before….”


“….Coming so soon after the much-publicized “Luck” cancellation, the New York Times article made a stunning impact. People who might question PETA’s claims would surely not questions the Times. Yet even though the paper’s investigation was exhaustive, its report was dishonest in one crucial respect.

The Times focused on racing in New Mexico, but readers undoubtedly assumed that the horrendous breakdowns and injuries to jockeys in that state were mirrored in New York, home of the country’s top Thoroughbred racing.

However, almost all of the New Mexico horror stories cited by the Times occurred in Quarter Horse racing – a different sport, with a different breed, a different style of training, and a different ethic. If Thoroughbred racing is supposedly the Sport of Kings, Quarter Horse racing is the anything-goes sport of cowboys. According to the Times’ own statistics, the seven U.S. tracks with the highest percentage of breakdowns or signs of injury were all ones that offer Quarter Horse racing – five of them in New Mexico, where supervision was notoriously lax. Yet the Times never drew a distinction between the two sports and did not even mention the phrase “Quarter Horse” until the 48th paragraph of its report. Subtract the Quarter Horse component from the study and the Times might not have a carnage-laden front page story….”

One aspect of the article discussed how careless they are in NM over racing.

“…Ruidoso Downs Race Track President Bruce Rimbo said he disagreed with the way the Times analyzed the data.”While Ruidoso Downs Race Track finds any injury a horse suffers unacceptable, the facts show that nearly 16,000 horses started over the three-year period The New York Times studied and just three one-hundredths of one percent of those horses encountered fatal injuries,” Rimbo said. “In a perfect world, there would be no injuries but in the world of sport that is just not a reality.”

The statement from the track noted Terry Chiplin, an official with a high-altitude training center in Colorado, found higher elevation competition can create problems for the unprepared, such as fatigue, dehydration, headaches and difficulty in breathing. The statement added that altitude can make a big difference and comparing a track at 7,000 feet to lower elevation race tracks is like comparing apples to oranges.

“In cases where horses need additional assistance, Ruidoso (Downs) personnel are there to help immediately,” Rimbo said. “This may result in a chart caller’s (person who makes a record of how horses performed in a race) comment appearing negative yet often times those same horses will come back in their next start just a few weeks later after acclimating to the altitude and perform at a very high level,” Rimbo said….”

This year, in the meeting of the New Mexico Horsman’s Association, that very thing was discussed just a few weeks ago.

“...The need for all tracks to follow the example of Sunland Park and to commit resources and effort to ensure the safest possible racing surface. It was pointed out to the Commission that Sunland Park started work on the track on September 25, 2012, a full 7 weeks before horses were allowed on the track and almost 11 weeks before the meet started. Dustin Dix stated at the Safety Meeting that he had always been given the money  neededto provide his crew with the proper equipment and materials. Like all tracks Sunland Park is a business that watches the bottom line but they do not skimp when it comes to providing the resources necessary to ensure the safety of the horses and riders. The NMRC was informed that not all Associations operate in this manner and to realize that a good track surface is the product of effort, commitment and resources. The best track man in the world is of no value if the equipment, manpower and materials are not available to him. The Associations should understand that attention to the track surface is a non-negotiable item and a cost of doing business. Proper materials should be on site and some guidelines should be in place for when work should commence prior to a meet. The NMRC and the NMHA should have access to the ledgers describing how much money is spent on materials for each meet. (It should be noted that, to date, no Association has refused to provide this information)…”

From what I can find, health and safety of horses and riders is taken very seriously.

“...New Mexico has strict guidelines to ensure the safety of jockeys and horses, they say. For his part, Chavez guesses that today’s Barbaro-less Belmont Stakes will produce an enthusiastic crowd of bettors at the Downs of Albuquerque, where he runs his horses.

“We have a responsibility”

The accepted industry estimate for deaths of horses at racetracks is one equine death per 1,073 “starts,” or horses that started a race, said Robert Betts, a veterinarian contracted to work for the state commission.

New Mexico’s six tracks saw 43 racing-related horse deaths last year, said Julian Luna, executive director of the state Racing Commission.

That’s out of 23,381 horses that ran statewide, or one death per 544 starts.

Luna stressed that the commission’s staff – including, among others, investigators and veterinarians at every track on race days – follows strict guidelines.

Every horse that dies, for instance, is tested to see if it was under the influence of banned drugs. For that matter, horses are tested randomly before races. Every winning horse is tested.

In 2005, there were 50 positive drug tests, Luna said, 10 for illegal substances and 40 for legitimate medications that should not be administered on a race day.

“We’ve got some major races in New Mexico. We have a lot of responsibility to ensure that everything goes well,” Luna said.

Even the surface at every track is scrutinized. A consultant studies the composition and reports to the commission, which would order changes, if deemed necessary.

At the Downs earlier this week, Milton Romans, one of three commission investigators, poked his index finger into the dirt to demonstrate just one of his tasks.

“I have a measuring tape right on my finger,” he said.

The track’s surface should be about 2 inches deep, Romans said, with a good mixture of silt, clay and fine sand. You don’t want to find large pieces of gravel.

Romans pushed aside the cushion to reveal the track’s hardpan, the surface underneath. He pronounced it wet enough to allow a horse’s hoof to get a hold, but not too wet….”

Colins Ghost

“…“There aren’t many professions like horse racing, where ambulances follow you as you work,” said Terry Meyocks, National Manager of the Jockeys’ Guild. “We want race fans to understand the risks jockeys take on the track while constantly looking for ways to reduce those risks. To have jockeys see this visible sign of support will be greatly uplifting.”

Unfortunately, the danger that jockeys face has been highlighted this year with severe injuries to Eibar Coa, winning jockey of the 2010 Breeders’ Cup Sprint. Coa is undergoing rehabilitation after suffering a broken neck in a spill in Florida in February. In addition, Jacky Martin, the legendary quarter horse jockey, remains paralyzed after a serious spill at Ruidoso Downs in September.

“Nearly one in five riders who are members of the Jockeys’ Guild suffered some sort of disability last year, either temporary or permanent,” said Meyocks, “and since the median income of our riders is $38,000 or less per year, that presents a tremendous hardship on our jockeys and their families. We want to focus on the health and safety of jockeys to ensure that the sport of horse racing thrives.”…”

Taylor Marsh

“…Focussing principally on low-grade racing in New Mexico for its anecdotal evidence, the Times puts blame squarely on a permissive drugs regime that enables trainers to mask injury for the wider incidence of catastrophic breakdowns.

“An investigation by The New York Times has found that industry practices continue to put animal and rider at risk,” said the article. “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.

“The failure of regulators to stop that cheating is reflected in the numbers. Since 2009, records show, trainers at United States tracks have been caught illegally drugging horses 3,800 times, a figure that vastly understates the problem because only a small percentage of horses are actually tested.”

According to the Times, about 3,600 horses died racing or training in 2009-11. “In the same period, 6,600 horses broke down or showed signs of injury. Since 2009, the incident rate has not only failed to go down, it has risen slightly,” said the article.

Equine welfare issues within racing gained a national profile in 2008 when the filly Eight Belles broke two ankles and was put down on national television after passing the post second in the Kentucky Derby.

Congress extracted promises from the racing industry to make the sport safer and bans were enacted on anabolic steroids. The issue has been in the spotlight again in recent weeks when a ban on the useof Lasix in two-year-olds races was overturned. ..”


 “...On  September 2nd  2011 just past the finish line in the mountains of New Mexico, one man’s life was changed forever. As the horses galloped out past the wire, after the sixth race at Ruidoso Downs, Jacky Martin’s mount, Phire Power broke down. Jacky fell from his mount and sustained injuries to his neck.

He is one of quarter horse racing’s leading riders and he was the scheduled rider on Ochoa, the fastest qualifier for that Saturdays All American Futurity at Ruidoso Downs. In a bleak instant, three broken neck bones latter, those dreams were shattered as Jacky lay paralyzed in the red, red dirt of New Mexico.

Jacky Martin has won the All American Futurity seven times. That’s like the Patriots winning the Super Bowl seven times. He is a fifty six year old man that is at the top of his game. Can you imagine if a fifty six year old man was playing USC football and was paralyzed during a play? That is what the quarter horse world, and really the equine world as a whole,  is reeling from today.

The first news out of New Mexico said Jacky wouldn’t make it through the night. Luckily, his condition improved. By the time on the Saturday that Jacky’s ex mount Ochoa was crossing the finish line first in the Futurity, the news coming out of the ICU in Texas where Jacky was recuperating was that Jacky would live, but that shockingly this darling of the Quarter horse world was indeed paralyzed.

I’ve been a Thoroughbred horse racing fan for years, but never got into quarter horse racing. I do watch the big Quarter horse races, though. I know who some of the big names are over the years, Dash For Cash, Refrigerator, Paul Jones, and I’ve recently become a fan of the great quarter horse Freaky. I’ve been to Los Alimitos to watch the quarter horse races in the evening and its amazing how often the jockeys do fall off in this sport. I don’t know if its just the faster speed the horses are going or what, but it seems to me it does happen quit a bit. That’s horse racing for you. Jockeys will always  get hurt, its just a question of when….”

To read the NYTimes article and what has followed, one would expect that nothing is being done about the injuries to horses and riders.  From what I gathered, that is very far from the truth

“….Veterinary issues and equine welfare were among the topics discussed during the University of Arizona Symposium on Racing & Gaming. High-profile catastrophic breakdowns within the last six years have led to many advances, but the industry sometimes has trouble getting that message across to the public.

“Horse welfare is good business for horse racing,” said Dr. Rick Arthur, equine medical director for the California Horse Racing Board. “The public expects us to do best by these horses.”

Dr. Scott Palmer, director of the New Jersey Equine Clinic, noted how the Equine Injury Database was launched about three years ago but just now is producing a critical mass of information. Still, there is a long way to go.

“I would encourage everyone to be very patient about it,” Palmer said.

The database maintained by The Jockey Club now contains about one million race starts and has produced about 30,000 injury reports. The number of catastrophic injuries remains at about two per 1,000 starts.

Much of the research being done is focused on identifying existing problems that can lead to more serious injuries in racehorses. Most injuries occur during training, not racing, Arthur said.

Information from pre-race examinations, necropsy reports, and veterinary records all figure in the profile of a racehorse. The objective, the vets said, is to improve prevention techniques….”

Sally Harrison

What does shock me, as an outsider, is how woefully small the accident insurance policy is, and how amazing the racing community is about reaching out to help someone who is so seriously injured.

 “...Ruidoso Downs carries a $500,000 accident policy. Martin will receive an additional $100,000 because of his paralysis. The Martins have no other accident insurance.

A.D. Hubbard, who owns Ruidoso Downs, started a fund for Martin with a $100,000 donation. The track invites additional donations at 575-378-4431. An Oklahoma bank also has started a fund for his treatment. The bank’s number is 918-478-2437….”

All Voices

The way the article is written, it makes Ruidoso Downs look like it is the only track where jockeys are injured.  That is far from the truth.

“...Jockey Scott Stevens was injured in an accident in the sixth race at Shakopee’s Canterbury Park. Stevens’ mount, Sombre, was leading a six-horse field when she fell a quarter-mile from the finish. Three other horses also went down. Stevens was being treated at North Memorial Medical Center for possible rib and lung injuries that were not life-threatening. Jockey Paul Nolan, who was aboard another horse that fell, was treated for minor injuries at St. Francis Medical Center in Shakopee. Sombre was euthanized. Recent www.startribune.com stories – July 3, 2010 …”


The way the NYTimes article reads, Ruidoso Downs is a death trap these past few years.  According to the database of jockeys who have been killed on the job this is not the truth.

  1. John 0’Day, Ruidoso Downs, NM, June 27, 1948
  2. Leo Gibbons, Ruidoso Downs, NM, Aug. 19, 1955
  3. Richard Lujan, Ruidoso Downs, NM, June 7, 1963
  4. James Smith, Ruidoso Downs, NM, July 11, 1978

“...2010-09-27: HOBBS, N.M. – The chaplain’s office at Ruidoso Downs has established a memorial fund to benefit the family of jockey Mark Villa, who died in a weekend accident at Zia Park. The 44-year-old Villa is survived by his 33-year-old wife, Krystal, and 6-year-old twins Olivia and Garrett. Villa died Saturday after his horse, Separate Money, fell in the seventh race. Villa was crawling to the rail when a trailing horse struck him in the back of the head. He was pronounced dead at a hospital. It was the first jockey fatality at Zia Park since it opened in 2005. Villa, a veteran New Mexico jockey, won 1,726 races…”

Let’s start placing some blame where blame is due – the Governor’s office.  Both Susana Martinez and Bill Richardson put state racing commissioners in place who have had NO experience in racing, but are owed political payback.

NM Watchdog

What do local trainers think of the NYTimes article?

“…Paul Jones, a 10-time AQHA Champion Trainer for the last 10 consecutive years, said The New York Times neglected to mention that most people involved in the horse racing industry “care deeply about the animals. They are valuable to us. The Times made it look like we don’t care.”

“Let me tell you, go into any trainer’s house and what do you think you’ll see on their walls? Pictures of horses, that’s what,” Jones said. “Does that sound like people who don’t love horses? That Times article stereotyped all of us as people who don’t care.”

Jones said in his career, he started more than 14,000 horses. “And to the best of my memory, only 20 had to be put down.

“Horses sometimes fail through accidental circumstances,” Jones said. “They stumble going out the gate, step in a hole or other things of that nature.”…”

NOTE:  Photographs exposing the duplicity of the NYTimes will appear in tomorrow’s PF.