The piece noted that the media and cyber-skirmishes between California trainer, Bob Baffert, and two of his more prominent and persistent Internet critics, Ray Paulick and horseplayer advocate Andy Asaro, had recently taken on a personal note when Baffert began making references to the private lives of his opposition.
The irony here is that Paulick and Asaro have previously publicly employed, if not exchanged, similar unpleasantness themselves, so none can claim to have taken the high road here.
It will be interesting to see whether those two adversaries, being on the same side of an issue for a change, can actually effect the change they advocate.
Baffert’s shot at Paulick took place on TVG which has yet to give the latter equal time. This is no impediment to Paulick who -- through his popular website -- has become the Oprah Winfrey of Internet racing discussion forums. His posted response to Baffert was greeted with rousing audience support.
I respect Mr. Paulick as one of the most talented writers and communicators on racing-related matters. The continued success of his website mirrors his ability to present issues that fuel reader participation like the one mentioned.
However, I’m a little skeptical re his simplistic addiction-as-disease stance which elicited overwhelming sympathy from the audience. Some diseases can cause suffering beyond the immediate victims; to family, caregivers, society and even victims of unexpected and unintended consequences as a result of those actions.
Alzheimer’s is one such disease but one that is not self-inflicted as addiction caused by substance abuse can be. I’m not suggesting that’s the case here but I feel compelled to raise the awareness of those who have never experienced such tragedy in the life of a loved one.
The comment thread was reminiscent of a referee, i.e. the majority of posters calling a foul on a player who reacts to the foul that the ref didn’t see. In this case, the original foul was Paulick’s news piece on Quarter Horse racing that led with a seemingly gratuitous shot at Baffert, deserved or not.
Toward the end of that 200-plus comment thread, Paulick finally pointed his finger at the real villains in the piece: "… The Thoroughbred Owners of California and California trainers that have fought efforts calling for more transparency--even when it comes to mandatory release of veterinary records for horses that die in racing or training.
It pains me to say this but California racing is sinking under the current leadership of the CHRB and TOC."
While it has indeed been a series of tragic events accompanied by regulatory malfeasance that are dimming Baffert’s bright light, triggering suspicion and constant criticism in cyberspace, some of it is warranted. The comments made by this Hall of Fame icon speak to an arrogance that, in Sheets parlance, is a “new lifetime top.”
Some SoCal horsemen maintain that the 80-20 rule is alive and well in this state; that 20% of the horsemen are receiving 80% of the purse money. (I doubt we'll ever learn what portion of that 20% Baffert earns as the trainer of highly successful owners, and as an owner himself, but I suspect it is substantial).
The fact that Baffert sits on the TOC board, an organization that effectively controls the rate of takeout charged racing’s customers to fund those purses, strongly suggests a conflict of interest.
That he, or any trainer, could have seven horses in the same shed die suddenly within an 18-month period and be allowed to continue to train before the cause of those deaths are revealed, speaks to the regulatory agency involved.
At best, the California Horse Racing Board is overly influenced by this iconic figure and his powerful owner, the influential TOC board member Mike Pegram. At worst, it suggests that the CHRB is incompetent, corrupt, or both.
These two men have been subjected to continuous cyber-scrutiny by people such as Asaro, a horseplayer willing to speak out against the inequities imposed by the arrogantly influential and powerful, even in the face of intimidation that includes threats of legal action and an investigation into his private life.
That might explain why, up until now, only a few others have been willing to step forward and openly challenge these agents of privilege and power.
Perhaps, beginning with the efforts of Paulick and Pricci, more journalists, if there any left among industry media, will be willing to step up and call for broader-based, transparent leadership in California and elsewhere. Rubber stamps do the sport no good.