Racing clean

For years, opponents of organized horse racing have focused mainly on the issues surrounding betting, but animal rights groups have also raised concerns over the well-being of the horses. Injuries are common in racing, they note, often requiring the animal to be destroyed to prevent further suffering. More minor injuries that could be exacerbated during a race are often masked with the use of various drugs. The high-profile case of Barbaro, for example, is one that no one wants to see repeated here. The 2006 Kentucky Derby winner shattered bones in one of his legs two weeks later, in the Preakness Stakes, leading to complications that eventually moved his owners to euthanize him. Other cases, in which horses suffering gruesome injuries have been euthanized on the track - in full view of the spectators and, sometimes, live television audiences - would make horse racing a difficult sell here, where, for example, circuses are highly limited in their use of animals in shows. The men at Bally Ranch agree, and claim that the racing industry that they envision is far different from that reality. The Israel Jockey Club, they say, wants to adopt the British and Irish models of racing, where, unlike in America, injured horses are not allowed to run, and insist they want a strict ban on drugs. Horses that have been treated with performance-enhancing or injury-masking drugs would be banned for a year, the men say, and owners and trainers involved in such practices would be banned for life. "If you really care about your horse, the last thing you want to do is to race it while it's injured," Paul Alster says. "A horse," Itamar Mashiah says emphatically, "ought to come to the race 'clean,' period." As for the stresses of racing and the general well-being of racehorses, Oren Sada assures that the animals only benefit from their careers on the track. "I'll tell you something," he says, "not only is it not bad for them, but in my next life, I'm prepared to come back as a racehorse. They get outstanding care."