Between July 2018 and June 2019, 49 horses died at the Santa Anita racetrack in Southern California. Some broke down in training — a snapped leg bone, an irreversible injury. Others died publicly during a race. These incidents confirmed what horse racing people already knew: Sometimes … horses die. But when the story of Santa Anita’s dead horses started seeping out of the insular racing world’s trade publications and into the local newspapers, The New York Times and even cable TV, protesters started showing up at the racetrack, demanding it be shut down. Politicians took notice too, and soon the Los Angeles County district attorney’s office was launching an investigation. Suddenly horse racing was under scrutiny, and for the first time, there was a real question: Should American horse racing still exist?
From ESPN Investigates, “Bloodlines,” reported and hosted by Wright Thompson, examines how the deaths at Santa Anita can be traced back to American horse racing’s origins and what those deaths might tell us about the future of the sport. We’ll look at how horse racing came to 20th century America as an antidote to American insecurity, how it rose to be the nation’s most popular sport, and how an alleged murder transformed the “sport of kings” into a game driven by returns on investment. We’ll also look for clues about the dead horses in a place that few people consider: in the blood of the horses themselves. “Bloodlines” is about the mystery of the 49 dead horses, but it’s also about the bigger question behind those deaths: What might be gained if this sport vanished for good? And what might be lost?
Listen to ‘Bloodlines’
“Bloodlines” is available now for fans to binge-listen. The episode lineup is:
Episode 1: ‘When A Horse Dies’ An examination of the 49 dead horses at Santa Anita. This episode examines the theories into what happened and its effect on the people who live and work at the track.
Episode 2: ‘Inheritance’ A look into the history of thoroughbred horse racing in America from the family dynasties that rose during the Industrial Revolution all the way through the 20th century, when a possible murder changed all of this from a sport to a business.
Episode 3: ‘The House Is Condemned’ A trip to the breeding farms of Kentucky where the fastest horses in the world are made, but not without also passing on the dangerous defects in their blood. All of this will lead us to examine the question: What is the future of horse racing?