Saratoga Springs, NY, March 11, 2009--Why is at that when the game finally starts to get good, news, big and small, comes flying from every direction? Some of it is late in arriving--an oxymoron, I know--but all of it, if it has relevance, is worth reinvestigating. To wit:

Item: A note from a regular HRI contributor, former thoroughbred trainer Doug Amos, which should be of interest to some of our fans:

“The Canadian Broadcasting Company show "The Passionate Eye" is running a documentary Sunday night, Mar. 15th, on the life of a thoroughbred jockey. They are usually very current and incisive. Fans should be able to link through news. Maybe we can start a movement to increase the scale of weights…give these people a life.”

This is something different than what he see on the Animal Planet series “Jockeys,” the reality horse opera we liked, lauded and was pleased to learn it was being renewed for a second season. It’s probably a lot different.

HBO did a piece on the plight of jockeys as athletes a few years ago on the practice of “flipping,” whereby jockeys force themselves to vomit undigested food in order to inhibit weight gain. HBO made the argument that raising the scale of weights was humane and a health issue for riders which, of course, it is.

Horsemen objected--Wayne Lukas being quite vocal in opposition--claiming it wasn’t in the horse’s best interest. That argument wasn’t logical then and doesn‘t make any more sense now. At that time jockeys were talking about raising the scale of weights five pounds. A healthier jockey is a stronger athlete, on balance in the best interests of human and equine athletes alike. The industry should revisit the issue.

Item: “Senator Leland Y. Yee, Assistant President pro-tem of the California State Senate, introduced Senate Bill 662 to ensure that the California Horse Racing Board establish a real-time transactional monitoring system for pari-mutuel wagering at all California horse tracks.”

Pretty timely considering the impetus for this was 1,300 “quick pick” bets placed at Bay Meadows Racecourse on last year’s Kentucky Derby superfecta that failed to include the “20” horse among the possible permutations. Of course, the “20” was the winning 2-1 favorite, Big Brown.

Bet processor Scientific Games cited a computer glitch that inexplicably excluded the highest numbered horse in every race from being part of the quick pick pool.

Yee said that consumers were entitled to know that the bet they make is fair and not being compromised; that the integrity of the sport must be protected. Yee sounds more interested in the plight of horseplayers than many industry executives and racing commissions.

There have been other glitches, of course, resulting in wagers being made after a race has started, known as “past-posting.” A famous big bettor gave testimony at a Kentucky integrity hearing stating he was able to bet on a Fair Grounds race nearly a minute after the race had begun. That was more than a year ago.

Late odds-drops continue to be tolerated for two conceivable reasons. In a pari-mutuel game, the bet taker gets a cut whether the player wins or loses. Second, providing wagering cycles in real time costs money for new programming. So it’s OK that racing’s infrastructure is in the same shape as the country’s, right?

Item: “CTBA Boardwatch, a grass roots movement that says it has the support of more than 500 California horsemen, continues to question the abhorrent practice of ‘warp-speed’ workouts at horse sales.”

Four horses in the recent Barretts March Sale of two-year-olds in training entered the ring boasting 1-furlong workouts in :10 seconds; one had worked in :09 4/5.

Three horses boasted 2-furlong workouts in under :22 seconds; one in :21 1/5, and another worked in in :20 4/5.

When HRI wrote about this practice last year, there was righteous indignation from many quarters saying many of these horses work faster than they’ll ever have to run in a race, putting tremendous stress on bones that haven’t had time to knit.

Then came Eight Belles, her unfortunate accident and all that negative publicity. And the congressional hearings that followed. And the new safety initiatives sponsored by the Jockey Club, NTRA, and every influential and well meaning horsemen’s group including the American Association of Equine Practitioners.

Reasonable and well intended measures all. But then come the breeze-up sales and it’s money that still makes the mares and horses go.

And go, and go, and go; fast, faster, fastest. We care, but then there’s the free market. So make what you can now and deal with the consequences later. But here’s where the Jockey Club and NTRA can do some more big picture good.

To its credit the proactive NTRA accreditation program has addressed 16 important health and safety issues. If implemented properly, the program will change the course of the industry for the better.

But there’s no good reason why the accreditation process cannot be expanded to include standards to which breeders, consignors and sales companies must adhere.

Item: “Eric Poteck, a Canadian grass roots activist and regular HRI contributor, asks: ‘Why is it when the official order of finish is appealed after a race is official, and changes are made at a later date, owners, jockeys and trainers are made whole but horseplayers get zip?’

Good question. The situation responsible for Poteck’s query refers occurred last fall at a Canadian harness track when a 1-5 favorite, hopelessly boxed in, took the short way home. The horse was guided off the racing oval, leaving the course and racing inside several pylons before re-entering the track by cutting in front of the leader, finishing first under the line. Obviously, this is in violation of the rules.

Not only was the race made official but, upon appeal, the result was allowed to stand, the commission saying it was the right decision to make. No further explanation.


But don’t take my word or Poteck‘s, mostly because there are no words to explain this. In case you missed the video and commentary on several sites previously, the links are below. Paste them into your browser and check it out. Seeing is still disbelieving.