Venezuela horse mafia

It sounds like a page-turning novel: Venezuelan authorities say a gambling ring poisons one of the country's most popular race horses ahead of a key derby, nearly killing the animal and shining a light on an underworld where millions of dollars in bets are made under the table.

But the attack on 4-year-old Rio Negro as he prepared for the Army Day derby was real, and just the latest grim milestone in a wave of lawlessness and violence that has made Venezuela one of the world's deadliest places.

The horse is still struggling to regain his strength after almost dying. There have been other cases of using poison to "sleep" a race horse in Venezuela, including three in the last year. But the attention thrust on Rio Negro's dramatic plight by the media and top level government officials has underscored the growing brazenness of well-organized betting rings that many say threatens to destroy a sport nearly as popular here as baseball.

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Below is a photo essay by photographer Fernando Llano.


Opening text from the AP Story AP PHOTOS: Horse poisoning alarms Venezuela racing, by FABIOLA SANCHEZ.


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