Friday, April 11, 2014
To Bet or Not to Bet, That’s the Game-Saving Question
LOS ANGELES, April 7, 2014--Not since the “Fix Six” scandal over a decade ago have I been so fascinated with racing-related commentary as I’ve been with some of the opinions expressed in the wake of the taped revelations from the PETA undercover agent working in trainer Steve Asmussen’s barns at Saratoga and Churchill Downs.
The c-word then was “crook.” Today it’s “cheater.” The “Drexel Frat Boys” broke laws and went to jail. The current excessive edge-takers operate within winking distance of inconsistent rules with inconsequential penalties.
Today’s c-worders are enabled by incompetent and/or agenda-driven regulators, laissez-faire racetrack management, greedy and self-serving horsemen and uninformed and unorganized customers.
The only reason for which I can remember someone facing criminal charges for abuse of race horses was starvation and neglect to animals that no longer were in competition.
One thing I gleaned from the content was that very few people are in a position to confirm equine abuse inflicted by others and far fewer who are willing to do something about it.
This doesn’t mean the widespread apathy doesn't exist. But until now little concerted effort has been made to discourage it beyond New York’s decision to limit purses in the wake of a rash of winter breakdowns several years ago and efforts made to establish uniform rules by tracks operating in the Northeast and Delaware Valley.
There is a National Uniform Medication Program in place in four states with 10 others reportedly in the process of doing likewise. Ten other racing jurisdictions have begun taking a serious look at adoption. The sport cannot afford any more foot-dragging on this issue.
With Kentucky Derby rapidly approaching, racing officials have begun to plead in earnest that the industry adopt the NUMP immediately. Meanwhile, there are 10 more jurisdictions yet to be heard from. What's up with that?
Amidst the usual hand-wringing, PETA-bashing and status quo defending, several other familiar potential solutions were recycled. Some were eloquently expressed but predictably few seemed to generate much agreement.
A possible exception was a piece by Andrew Cohen that seemed to touch many individual consciences but precious few among the entrenched establishment.
While referred to by other media contributors the commentary has not yet spurred collective action. Indeed, the longer the discussions continue, the less likely change seems possible.
The only person that appeared to strike any fear among commenters was NBC’s Bob Costas. Perhaps he should become racing’s first commissioner or the vehicle by which one is created.
What he has to say on the Kentucky Derby telecast--if indeed he plays the role of host given NBC's recent hiring of Josh Elliot--viewed by millions of viewers could go a long way in motivating actual reform. It would help if he could report there is massive support for change among the sport’s bettors and fans.
One way to accomplish this would be to boycott a subset of the pari-mutuel pools for races preceding the Derby that did not involve exotic multi-race bets, i.e., eschewing straight wagers and vertical exotics.
Another race could be used to heighten interest and increase impact. Either way, it would send a clear message to the widest possible audience without ruining an entire day or crippling the sport.
(Other suggestions for accomplishing that objective are most welcome).
What is needed for this is a temporary organization -- one with a name like BETCARE, Bettors for Equitable Treatment and Care of All Racing Equines -- that could construct such a message to help raise the funds for spreading the word through media in preparation for such a demonstration.
Surely the authors of opinion pieces advocating pro-active change as an appropriate response to PETA and the NY Times would be willing to lead this charge. How about it, Messrs. Casner, Cohen, Irwin, Pricci, Weisbord, et al … will you accept supportive/constructive input and draft the message for confirmation in an on-line petition?
Will you be willing to place ads enlightening bettors and instructing them how to speak with a single voice on this issue? Could HANA provide resources to enable such an endeavor?
Everyone knows what the obstacles are; acknowledging a crisis exists, the need to overcome the inertia in fixing it and, of course, the kneejerk resistance to change in the status quo. The many must not be thwarted by the few any longer.
Those who know in their hearts that the status quo cannot continue must assert themselves and clean up the game in the face of fifth-column opposition to existing alliances that destroy racing. Take-charge leaders must prevent the greatest gambling game known to man from being ground to a halt by the arrogant and corrupt.
We have the opportunity on May 3 to effectively hold a national referendum on how U.S. racing should be conducted at a time when the whole world is watching. It is a chance for horse owners and horseplayers to demonstrate respect for each other by addressing mutual concerns.
The time has come to stop looking backward with recrimination and deliver a positive statement about how racing intends to move forward in harmony with a single goal; truly doing our best for the horses and the humans who care for them.