The Dark Side of the Kentucky Derby

Hampton,

With full apologies to the Cult of Barbaro—and partial apologies to animal-lovers everywhere, a cohort that includes me—I'm more concerned with the physical safety of humans than that of horses. And guess what?

That's another reason to view the Kentucky Derby with a jaundiced eye.

Last year, former jockey Darrell Haire told ABC News that he kept his kids away from following him into the sport. With good reason. After all, horse racing isn't just hell on competitive equines; it's brutal on the people who ride them. The typical jockey weighs less than 120 pounds. The average race horse weights over 1,000 pounds, reaches a top speed of 40 miles per hour, and does not include a built-in roll cage, even though spills and crashes are commonplace.

Do the math.

The good news? To my knowledge, no jockey ever has been euthanized trackside. The bad news? Riders still die. According to a 2009 report from the National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health, there were 26 jockey fatalities from 1992 to 2006, an average of 5.6 deaths per year—more fatalities than in NASCAR over the same time period (15), and a number the authors of the NIOSH study said was probably an underestimate.

The job isn't particularly safe for living riders, either. A University of North Carolina study found that between 1993-1996, a group of 2,500 American jockeys suffered 6,545 reported injuries. Nearly one in five of those injuries involved the head or neck; a Los Angeles-based orthopedic surgeon who treats jockeys at Hollywood Park last year told ABC News that the average jockey suffers five to 10 bone fractures over the course of his or her career. Moreover, riders often rely on unhealthy methods to create and maintain their emaciated racing physiques —diet pills; jogging in rubber suits; using cocaine and amphetamines as energy-boosting appetite suppressants; gorging on fast food hamburgers, followed by self-induced vomiting—with many developing full-blown eating disorders. Long-term consequences, of course, can include heart problems, esophagitis, osteoporosis, ruined teeth and organ and nerve damage. Not to mention the aforementioned death.

So yes, Hampton, the Kentucky Derby is decadent and depraved. Just not in the roller-coaster, gonzo-good-times-for-loaded-spectators way that Hunter S. Thompson once immortalized. Jake, what's your take on the race?

–Patrick

Jump to comments
Presented by

Sports Roundtable

Patrick Hruby, Jake Simpson, and Hampton Stevens 

Get Today's Top Stories in Your Inbox (preview)

What Is a City?

Cities are like nothing else on Earth.


Join the Discussion

After you comment, click Post. If you’re not already logged in you will be asked to log in or register. blog comments powered by Disqus

Video

What Is a City?

Cities are like nothing else on Earth.

Video

CrossFit Versus Yoga: Choose a Side

How a workout becomes a social identity

Video

Is Technology Making Us Better Storytellers?

The minds behind House of Cards and The Moth weigh in.

Video

A Short Film That Skewers Hollywood

A studio executive concocts an animated blockbuster. Who cares about the story?

Video

In Online Dating, Everyone's a Little Bit Racist

The co-founder of OKCupid shares findings from his analysis of millions of users' data.

Video

What Is a Sandwich?

We're overthinking sandwiches, so you don't have to.

Video

Let's Talk About Not Smoking

Why does smoking maintain its allure? James Hamblin seeks the wisdom of a cool person.

Writers

Up
Down

More in Entertainment

Just In