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Saturday Sports: Horse Racing Deaths, March Madness


And it's time now for sports.


BLOCK: Selection Sunday is tomorrow, and college basketball fans, like BJ Leiderman, who writes our theme music, will find out who's playing whom in the mad month of March. But first, we go to Southern California and horse racing, where nearly two dozen horses have died on a race track in recent months. NPR's Tom Goldman joins us now. Tom, good morning.

TOM GOLDMAN, BYLINE: Good to be with you, Melissa.

BLOCK: Twenty-two horses have died at Santa Anita Park since the end of December, which is just a shocking number. The most recent death came on Thursday. What is behind this?

GOLDMAN: Investigators don't know at this point why this many catastrophic breakdowns - in other words, injuries the horses suffered while running, forcing them to be euthanized. Sadly, this happens in racing. But really, what's happened at Santa Anita in less than three months is an outlier. Investigators are looking at a number of factors, including the track's condition. People there on a daily basis say it's in great shape. But there has been a lot of rain and cooler temperatures potentially affecting the track.

BLOCK: This week, on Thursday, Santa Anita did announce that it would be making some changes. What did they say?

GOLDMAN: Yeah. The company that owns the track issued notable changes for an American race track, banning the controversial diuretic Lasix from being given to horses on the day they run. Now, most countries don't allow it on race days. The U.S. does. So this puts Santa Anita in line with most of the world. Other new changes limit the use of whips on horses and use of other drugs, like anti-inflammatories, joint injections, which could mask pain and allow horses to run when they shouldn't.

And finally, Melissa, the LA district attorney's office announced yesterday it would investigate. The People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals has been pushing for this once trainers and veterinarians investigated, and that prompted this response from an official with the California Thoroughbred Trainers - quote, "we welcome an investigation. It's long past the time that these unfounded accusations be proven wrong and that everyone realize our trainers' first concern always is for their horses."

BLOCK: OK. Let's move on to March Madness and...


BLOCK: ...Brackets that fans are so eagerly awaiting. What should we be expecting?

GOLDMAN: Hoping for madness. In both the men's and women's tournament, no clear favorites. Although in the men's, Duke's Zion Williamson - the next LeBron James, in case you hadn't heard, Melissa - is...

BLOCK: I think I've heard something about that guy.

GOLDMAN: Yeah. He's back from a knee sprain caused by his exploding Nike. And he led the Blue Devils past archrival North Carolina last night in the ACC tournament. He makes Duke very good. Others to watch - North Carolina, Gonzaga, Virginia, Tennessee. On the women's side, UConn has gotten through a rocky season for them, losing two whole games. But for once, they're not the overwhelming favorite going in. Baylor, which beat the Huskies this season, is ranked first in the country. All five top teams have lost games. So Notre Dame, Mississippi State, Louisville - they're all contenders, too.

BLOCK: Well, last May, the Supreme Court legalized sports betting. How's that going to play out?

GOLDMAN: Hold on to your hat, Melissa.

BLOCK: I'm holding on.

GOLDMAN: For the first time ever, people will actually bet money on the tournament.

BLOCK: Shocked. I'm shocked.

GOLDMAN: No, not really. Actually, it just means more people can bet legally around the country without flying to Las Vegas. It'll mean the billions already bet should increase and increase the overall amount of money - billions surrounding the tournament, none of it, of course, going to the athletes, who generate the product.

BLOCK: All right. NPR's Tom Goldman. Tom, thank you so much.

GOLDMAN: You're welcome.

(SOUNDBITE OF L'INDECIS' "HER") Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

Tom Goldman is NPR's sports correspondent. His reports can be heard throughout NPR's news programming, including Morning Edition and All Things Considered, and on