Another San Diego attraction featuring animals is making national news, and again it's not the good kind.
The Del Mar race track? Well, it hasn't exactly been as cool as ever of late. It's been deadlier than ever of late. Ten horses have died so far this year.
And the season started when? How about less than a month ago, on July 17.
At that rate — and not to sound flippant — will they run out of horses?
The race track's troubles come after the backlash that hit SeaWorld, which was attacked for how it showcases big and beautiful killer whales. Critics say they belong in the oceans. A blistering documentary, “Blackfish,” vilified the theme parks.
The Del Mar Thoroughbred Club is struggling to figure out what's going on. Deaths do happen, but not at this number. Earlier, it suspended racing on its newly installed turf track which is were four of the injuries that led to horses being euthanized have taken place.
But they don't know if the turf is truly the problem.
“We’re feeling snake-bit,” Del Mar Turf Club spokesman Mac McBride told the O.C. Register. “Have we seen anything like this before? No, we have not. If we could figure this out, we would stop it. I mean – Jesus – it just keeps happening.”
Horse racing is called “The Sport of Kings.” The horses, apparently, are the pawns. Unlike sports that humans play, humans make the decision of whether to take part or not. Pro football players, for instance, now have the knowledge that playing football can lead to head injuries. They have an option. They don't have to play.
Baseball players realize they can get beaned by a pitch and suffer serious injury. It's their decision to go the plate and face 97 mile-an-hour fastballs.
Race car drivers, boxers, hockey players … It's the same story.
Horses? They don't make the call.
They also don't get to make the call when it comes to drugs. Human athletes know the risks — and the benefits — of taking steroids and other performance enhancing drugs. They know the toll it can take on their bodies.
Again, it's their choice.
“HBO Real Sports” once did a feature on the problem in horse racing. Host Bryant Gumbel opened the segment this way:
“In sports like baseball, football and cycling, PEDs may be an annoyance to fans and officials, but in the world of horse racing they are causing widespread death. All across America these days in numbers that are far higher than the rest of the world, racehorses are dropping dead on the track. Behind that alarming trend, experts say, is a rampant drug culture, one governed by greed.”
It's hard not to be captivated by Del Mar and the sport of horse racing. The venue is beautiful. The horses are spectacular. I've been there a host of times. I'm no track rat, but it's a blast to bet long shots or on a horse that has a name that strikes you.
Come on, who wouldn't put $2 on a horse named "Bar Fight?"
Yes, as the track's catchy ad says, "It's cool as ever."
Ten horses have died for our amusement.
Something better needs to be done to protect them. Whether it be more government or industry oversight, reforms need to come thundering down the stretch.
Because it's becoming too sad — instead of heart-pounding — to watch.