Thursday, March 22, 2012

Memo To Industry: Be Very Afraid

HALLANDALE BEACH, FLA., March 22, 2012--The fact that there have been 32 program scratches from 144 entries the first two days of main-track racing at Aqueduct Race Track is alarming, and it should be.

That’s a shade over 22 percent on a surface rated fast for the first two days of racing at the new meeting, and the New York Racing Association tack of scratch-me-if-you-can is raising eyebrows everywhere.

It is fresh sand and loam that horses are racing on now--and this after every horseman we spoke with in the last 10 days said to a man and woman that there was nothing wrong with the winter track over which there have been 18 breakdowns since November 30, 2011.

As we speak, the New York Times is preparing a series on horse fatalities. As Turo Escalante might say--if he still had a voice, that is--“what a surprise,”—yet another negative story from the paper of record just in time for Kentucky Derby Madness.

The sad part is that that the impending series is timely and newsworthy, and it comes a time when the industry is being buried under an avalanche of bad news. For anyone who loves this game—and that’s everybody associated with it, on any level—that pit in your stomach is a.k.a. fear.

The scratch of 32 horses in two days when field size is already on the small side is not a coincidence and, despite the protestations of the New York Racing Association, it is unusual and way above the norm given ideal racing conditions.

But erring on the side of caution--whether or not the Big Brother in Albany is on your case--is a good thing and the right thing to do. And everyone had better pray to God Almighty that all the Triple Crown horses come home safely!

Here’s the pity of it all: No athletes are under as much scrutiny as the Thoroughbred race horse, especially the Triple Crown horses. But, damn it, accidents do happen.

In a partial study released by the Jockey Club this morning involving 1,160,045 starters, the fatality rate among injured horses last year was 1.88 per thousand, the exact same ratio as in 2010, and better than the 1.98 recorded in 2009.

Here’s some A-B-C type information for the people who want to see the sport of Thoroughbred racing die: While one fatality out of one trillion for those tethered to the Thoroughbred is too many, a less than two percent mortality rate is realistically not beyond the pale.

If NYRA said that its examiners were doing anything differently for the last two days, it would be an admission that they have not been doing enough since November 30. And that would be unacceptable, of course.

But to have a leading racing organization qualify its actions, for erring on the side of caution in a game as well monitored as this one in regards to animal welfare, is beyond sad.

After all, it’s not as if horsemen are placing bounties on the horses of rival trainers just to win a purse.

Instead of celebrating the fact that Havre De Grace, the third consecutive female Horse of the Year, is ranked #1 in the latest official NTRA poll and well on her way to a title defense, the industry and the media covering it has been distracted by what’s happening off-track.

For one thing, there are those casino-yes, racing-no statehouses that are more interested in bottom lines than jobs, green space or an American way of life.

For another, the cancellation of an entertaining HBO drama series because a horse reared up, fell over backwards, and struck its head the ground, necessitating that it be euthanized, is another hit in the battle racing has with the mainstream, whether the arena be sports or gambling.

In an excellent piece of reporting, Ray Paulick of Paulick Report wrote a comprehensive story that left little doubt as to the agenda, both real and imagined, of the People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals group.

Paulick’s story went a long way in exposing the animal-rights group for the frauds they are, their real agenda being the checks they cut for themselves in the form of salary.

One of their stated objectives is to bar animals from participating in the entertainment industry. Just this past Tuesday, “Late Show” host David Letterman complained to a guest about how PETA has made his life, and those of his staff, difficult regarding the show’s occasional but long-standing and popular feature, “Stupid Pet Tricks.”

As any Letterman viewer knows, these are harmless, amusing stunts taught the animals by their devoted owners. Does any reasonable person truly believe that asking a dog to perform a sophisticated equivalent of sitting up and begging is somehow harmful?

If that’s the case, parents should be required to avert the gaze of their children when the circus rolls into town. And perhaps you had better think twice about teaching your old dog any more new tricks, stupid or otherwise. Hypocrisy knows no bounds.

Written by John Pricci

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