April 20th will mark the seventh anniversary of the tragic explosion and sinking of the BP Deepwater Horizon rig that killed 11 workers and spewed oil into the Gulf until it was capped nearly three months later, July 15, 2010.
The operation was declared officially or “effectively dead” two months after that on September 19.
For those interested, the lease sale will be livestreamed from New Orleans and it will be the first installment of a five-year program called the Outer Continental Shelf Oil and Gas Leasing Program for 2017-2022.
On a related note, oil will soon flow through the Dakota Access Pipeline just 150 miles from where the failed protests to stop it took place. Recall that in December, authorities discovered that 176,000 gallons of crude leaked from the Belle Fourche Pipeline into Ash Coulee Creek in North Dakota.
The lease sale in the Gulf is an invitation for both profit and potential disaster. I spoke with musician and environmental activist Tab Benoit, as far back at June 3, 2010. Benoit was in New York for a show and we talked about the BP debacle after the gig.
So, what’s all this have to do with horse racing?
Well, it was Benoit who inspired the name of a four-time Louisiana Horse of the Year champion, Star Guitar. The Star Guitar Stakes is now the lynchpin for Louisiana Champions Day for state-bred horses at the Fair Grounds each year.
The multiple champion was bred and raced by Benoit’s mother, Evelyn, who raced under the name Brittlyn Stable. The family was so devoted to racing that when Tab was too young to get into the track, his parents dropped him off at a bowling alley on their way to Fair Grounds.
Even for New Orleans, a bowling alley is an odd place for childcare. (While discouraging a heckler on the Legendary Rhythm and Blues Cruise seven years ago, Benoit tells the hilarious R-rated bowling alley tale: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=uQkyvgvDnIQ
Benoit is a multiple award-winning artist from Houma, Louisiana where he holds a festival each year to benefit the wetlands. In 2004 he established The Voice of the Wetlands, a cultural preservation and wetlands restoration organization that continually battles the sea from claiming the land.
Standing beside his tour bus on the Hudson River dock at 42nd Street, Benoit took a sip a Courvoisier and cited a US Geological Survey stating the wetlands have lost ground to the sea at a rate of 16.57 square miles each year for a quarter-century, or about a football field of coast every 60 minutes. “An acre an hour,” he said.
Benoit knows this from first-hand experience. Before he entered the music business, he piloted crews to the oil rigs in the Gulf by plane and has witnessed the encroachment of the wetlands from the air.
Benoit, a master blues guitarist, gathered the “crème de la crème” of New Orleans musicians and formed the Voice of the Wetlands All-Stars. The group includes Dr. John, George Porter, Jr. of The Meters, Cyril Neville of the Neville Brothers, and prolific songwriter/guitar monster Anders Osborne.
Not long after the band was formed, Benoit came to the aid of his beloved Louisiana after the disaster left by Hurricane Katrina and the federal flood that followed on August 29, 2005.
How events transpired from there was documented in John Swenson’s 2010 book “New Atlantis: Musicians Battle for the Survival of New Orleans.”
Swenson was a former music critic for Rolling Stone magazine and local horseplayers remember him as a turf writer for the New York Post and later was a Fair Grounds correspondent for Daily Racing Form.
Following the Deepwater Horizon disaster, the Star Guitar man again came to the rescue again. In between he testified before Congress in 2008. But he has no faith in politicians and pulls no punches when saying so:
"We're sitting here trying to fix the tail while the head is making decisions," Benoit said after his Congressional appearance. "If we don't fix the priorities of the nation we're not going to fix the coast of Louisiana. If taking care of people and our infrastructure was a priority, the coast of Louisiana would be high on their list."
Benoit used his first-hand knowledge of the issue and tried his best when, taking no sides in 2008, he brought a troupe of 50 musicians to play at both the Democratic and Republican national conventions.
Dan Rather later interviewed him on his HDnet show “Dan Rather Reports ‘Mudflap’.” Said Benoit: “You look at [Rather] and you just can’t lie. When he asks you a question you have to answer.” Here’s a press conference with Benoit speaking about Rather on the Deepwater Horizon disaster: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=RkMEccVKSxE
Rather got a first-hand tour down on the bayou on Benoit’s speedboat. The boat was moving so fast that their cheeks rippled in the wind.
But Rather’s hair was so secured with hairspray that not a single strand was out of place. Indeed, they should use it to secure the wetlands. The episode is available on iTunes: https://itunes.apple.com/us/tv-season/dan-rather-reports-season-5/id349321254
Star Guitar gave Louisiana-bred racing a shot in the arm the way Fio Rito did for New York when he won the 1981 Whitney Handicap at Saratoga, the only time--Rachel Alexandra’s Woodward notwithstanding--the old Spa building literally shook with cheers https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=0SDQqwpWqsk
BITS AND BYTES: On March 2, the New York Racing Association announced a three-year partnership with Hoppegarten Racecourse in Berlin for a unique series of inter-continental stakes beginning later this year.
The New York State breeding program has come a long way since Fio Rito, with many notable Grade 1 winners including, of course, Funny Cide, winner of the Kentucky Derby and Preakness in 2003.
NYRA and the New York breeders should attempt to expand the synergy of this new partnership by attracting some of the noted raceday-medication-free German bloodstock to New York.
Sires that have raced on drugs are forbidden to stand in Germany and that would bring back stallions of known quality to New York…
“Belmont Live” and “Saratoga Live” broadcasts, the best things that NYRA did last year, will resume and be expanded this year, it was announced yesterday in an agreement with Fox Sports which present 46 live shows on Fox Sports-2.
The entire 36-day meeting at Saratoga Race Course is on the Fox schedule along with 10 dates this spring; three from Aqueduct Racetrack and seven from Belmont Park…
The horseplayer boycott at Santa Anita is on. West Coast-based horseplayer advocate Andy Asaro has organized a boycott of Santa Anita from March 23-to-26 to protest the jackpot provision of the Pick 6, the results from which on March 5 caused quite a stir. An open letter to Frank Stronach is to come. Stay tuned.