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Large payouts to owners make it profitable for owners to field thoroughbreds that are past their prime, sometimes with fatal results.

As he trained for his first race, at Aqueduct Racetrack in Queens, the 3-year-old thoroughbred Wes Vegas galloped on the track most mornings and had two timed workouts. But his handlers also prepared him in another way: In the month before the race, records show, he received 10 intravenous injections of potent drugs for pain, one the day before he ran; two injections of a drug for joint disease; corticosteroid injections in his two front ankles; a sedative; and an ulcer drug.

For all the preparation, that first race, on March 3, turned out to be his last.

As he approached the first turn, Wes Vegas broke a leg and had to be euthanized.

A week earlier, another horse, the 4-year-old Coronado Heights, who records show had “early degenerative joint disease,” suffered a fatal breakdown at Aqueduct after receiving 13 injections for pain and cartilage damage in the month before his race.

Since a casino opened at Aqueduct late last year, offering vastly richer prizes, 30 horses have died racing there, a 100 percent increase in the fatality rate over the same period the previous year. Like Wes Vegas and Coronado Heights, many had been injected repeatedly with pain medication in the weeks before their breakdowns, according to a review of veterinary records by The New York Times.

Pain medication during training is legal as long as it does not exceed certain levels on race day. But the prevalence of drugs is a graphic illustration of how the flood of casino cash has created powerful and dangerous incentives to run sore, tired or otherwise unfit horses in pursuit of that big score.

“If the public knew how many medications these horses were administered after entry time, I don’t think they would tolerate it,” said Dr. Rick Arthur, equine medical director of the California Horse Racing Board.

Amid the uproar over the Aqueduct death toll, Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo of New York ordered an investigation to “ensure against needless injuries to horses and to riders.” Experts are examining various factors — not just drugs, but issues like track conditions and pre-race inspections.

But what is indisputable is that casinos opening at Aqueduct and a growing number of racetracks have recalibrated the age-old economic equations of the horse-racing game.

To survive amid a riot of new, technologically advanced gambling options, track owners have increasingly succumbed to the gambling industry’s offer to sweeten racing purses with slot machine revenue. But if casinos promise to prop up a struggling sport, they can also erode the loyalty that owners and trainers feel toward their horses, turning them, in the words of Maggi Moss, a leading owner, into “trading cards for people’s greed.

The casinos’ impact is greatest at the sport’s low end, the so-called claiming races, a world away from the bluegrass pageantry of Saturday’s Kentucky Derby. In the claiming ranks — where some of the cheapest horses fill starting gates at tracks like Aqueduct, Penn National, near Harrisburg, Pa., and Evangeline Downs in Louisiana — the casino money has upset the traditional racetrack balance of risk and reward.

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