“The future of the American horse industry, particularly the horseracing segment that is by far its largest employer and economic engine, is bleak for precisely the same reason that the nation cannot stem the rising cost of the world’s most expensive health care system. Both are locked in a business pattern where the controlling interests benefit at the expense of the powerless players. And just like the check writers in the human health care system, the very foundation of the horse business-the owners and breeders-are finding the endeavor increasingly unaffordable and out of their control. Only the horses are more helpless.”
The assumption is that members of the Water, Hay, Oats Alliance (WHOA), authors of the above, will be called alarmist do-gooders, or worse, by the majority of Thoroughbred racing practitioners.
Don’t these people realize that national handle was up in 2012, racing is on its way back, that the slide has been stabilized? WHOA’s critics would be correct about that, but what of the 25 percent of nationwide handle lost since 2006? Forget them as sunk costs to be ignored? Isn’t that the first rule of management?
Indeed, but what of public perception? Doesn’t that demand that the business model be improved or changed altogether? Or do we all just wait change to get up on its own in the final strides and beat extinction by a nose?
Besides, everything’s OK, now that it appears trainer Rick Dutrow, barring a federal appeal to come, will be put out of business. “We will not tolerate cheaters,” said former State Racing & Wagering Board chairman John Sabini upon hearing that Dutrow’s second appeal before the New York State Court of Appeals will not be heard.
What a relief, the scourge of Rick Dutrow, the only trainer to ever take an edge, will be gone, along with racing’s drug problems; as for the drug culture on the backstretch of American’s racetracks, maybe not so much.
Earlier this week, WHOA reiterated its support for federal legislation that would amend the Interstate Horseracing Act of 1978 to prohibit the use of raceday medication.
In the main, WHOA’s critics have been treated like so many messengers to be shot. These ivory towered rich are simply out of touch with reality, are they not?
Drugs have always been a part of the game; there’s no foolproof way to stop cheaters; raceday medication is humane treatment; there’s no public perception issues and other lies and half-truths.
What’s more, they’re hypocrites. When their grand No-Raceday-Lasix experiment failed, their horses were put on the diuretic. Never mind, say the majority. As long as it’s legal, I won’t even try. How can I compete with those taking an edge, etc., etc?
WHOA correctly pointed to positive steps taken; curtailing the use of anabolic steroids and growth hormones; how the Jockey Club, Thoroughbred Owners and Breeders and Breeders’ Cup “finally stepped up to at least express a willingness to change things... But at this rate, real reform will take years to accomplish.”
Change in a democracy, as we’re reminded every day, is a slow, tedious process. Just like current second amendment issues, racing’s equally powerful majority argues that if you want to treat our racehorses differently you’ll have to rip the syringe from my cold, dead hands.
Proposed drug reforms have been adopted in some some states but denied in others, and it’s no secret that these efforts will continue to be opposed by most trainers and veterinarians who “just like insurance companies and human health care providers, do not believe reform to be in their best economic interests.”
The continued use of an ultimately debilitating diuretic, and attendant painkillers, remains unresolved, and a real concern is that unless the issue is resolved internally, some powerful outside group put an end to racing altogether. Unfortunately, this “fix” won’t go away on its own.
The economic reality is that the shuttering of racetracks in states allowing casino gambling would be best for the bottom line and is good political theater because it protects helpless animals from the acts of a “cruel industry.”
Deep-pocketed political parties backed by deeper-pocketed individuals might not be the only power base to lose its economic and political might if it continues to ignore the will of the American people, in this case the sporting public.
To date, only the Commonwealth of Kentucky has supported initiatives created by Breeders’ Cup, TOBA’s Graded Stakes Committee and the Jockey Club calling for a cessation of race day medication.
WHOA correctly pointed out that this is par for the industry course; a continuation of the status quo in which veterinarians call many of the training shots when it comes to the care and conditioning of race horses.
For horsemen, this potentially means the loss of mega-millions. But do WHOA critics really believe that these people want to kill the baby because it believes that it’s time to clean the bath water?
Trainers, however, bear none of the cost for veterianary services or medications. They have their own economic concerns, of course, as it relates to workmen’s compensation issues and the like.
There is no easy fix or clear blueprint for anyone seeking a future in this business. But the calculus seems clear: Change now or die a slow, irrelevant-to-the-world death.
With or without the approval of horsemen, change in some form is inevitable. The only way to fix potentially fatal problems is to deal with current issues by getting out in front of them.
No one is naïve: Taking an edge with medication, legal or otherwise, has always been part of the game. And there’s no way that some individuals outside the United States, who need not fear the rigors of American testing technology, are not beating system.
Not that we should care about other cultures that eat horsemeat but they’ve stopped doing so because the horses that come off our racetracks are full of drugs.
Whether members of WHOA get their wish or not, federal legislation will be forthcoming. And this does more than just put a way of life at risk. It risks the jobs of every group tethered to the race horse, millions of jobs, in fact.
Some food for thought for both sides: Beginning in a reasonable period, say two years, January 1, 2015, two of the aforementioned organizations need to go all in.
The Graded Stakes Committee, once and for all, must eliminate grading from any stakes race in which raceday medication is permitted. For its part, the Jockey Club must use the only real authority it has; its power over the stud book.
Commencing with the juvenile class of 2015 and beyond, the Jockey Club should not recognize any stallion that has run on raceday medication. All three-year-olds and older at that point are excluded, grandfathered in.
The majority of today’s trainers, including some present and future Hall of Fame horsemen, learned their craft by knowing how to lean on veterinarians and the satchels they carry to get their horses to win races.
Two years is enough time for real horsemen to relearn their craft through better horsemanship and holistic approaches based on the latest in anatomical disciplines. They need to break free of their drug dependency.
All Americans are learning to adapt their skill sets to a new world order that finds much of their talent obsolete--and that includes former full-time journalists.
If the racing industry doesn’t take steps to get out ahead of today’s drug issues now, or waits for inevitable federal intervention, it will rue the day it failed to act. And that day is at hand.
So just do it, and do it now.