Friday, March 28, 2014

Steve Asmussen, PETA and Harness Racing

On the surface, the firestorm surrounding Steve Asmussen, the PETA undercover investigation and the cruelty to animals charges has nothing to do with harness racing.

Asmussen trains thoroughbreds, and it's easy to argue that that sport is far less humane than harness racing. Their horses die in droves on the racetrack. A standardbred dying on the racetrack is a rare sight.

But harness racing cannot afford to ignore the story, or the controversy. This is about far more than just Asmussen and thoroughbreds. It is about how the American public feels about the abuse of animals.

People don't like it and they will not accept it.

Not just any sport, but any business that involves animals had better make sure that the welfare of the animal is a major priority. If it's not, the will of people can destroy that industry.

The will of the people at work: [Rooster] fighting was once a popular activity in this country. Today, those fights are illegal and the very idea of them horrifies most sensible people. Dog racing has been outlawed in Massachusetts and elsewhere.

SeaWorld is dealing with a severe backlash and protests that resulted with the movie documentary "Blackfish." The movie delves into the consequences of keeping killer whales in captivity.

In a lot of circles, the circus is no longer looked upon as an innocent family-friendly activity but as a business that exploits animals. Many people refuse to attend,

Harness racing, by and large, has not had to deal with any welfare issues. That's a benefit of being a sport that operates far away from the spotlight and is more or less ignored by the media and the American public. There are things you can get away with when no one bothers paying attention to you. That doesn't mean it is okay or smart business.

Can harness racing look at itself in the mirror and really say that it is doing the very best it can when it comes to the welfare of the animal? Sorry, but the answer is no.

Standardbreds arrive at slaughter auctions at places like New Holland and Sugar Creek in truckloads week after week and very little is said or done about it.

Drivers kick their horses in the moment of battle in the stretch and about the only thing that ever happens to them is a $100 fine.

There are trainers who think nothing of using illegal and dangerous drugs to improve the performance of their horses and outside of Jeff Gural no one seems to want to do anything about it.

How do you explain to the man on the street that it's common practice for drivers to slash their horses with a whip?

Do horses really need all the legal drugs that are out there that they can be given? Is this pharmacological cornucopia really the best thing for the animal?

Written by Bill Finley of Harness Racing Update

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Monday, March 17, 2014

With Lawsuit Filed, Coletta Family Reveals Long-Term Prognosis is Grim

PHILADELPHIA–Speaking publicly for the first time, Anthony Coletta's father admitted that the long-term prognosis for his son is not good and said the chance of a full recovery is "less than one-half of one percent."

Coletta's parents, Fred and Rosemary, spoke briefly yesterday at a press conference to announce that the family has filed a lawsuit against Harrah's Philadelphia alleging that management refused to fix a track surface it knew was dangerous and their failure to act led to the Nov. 17 spill which left Coletta seriously injured.

The lawsuit details the long list of injuries Coletta suffered when his horse fell over another horse and the driver was catapulted from his sulky and thrown to the track.

"The most serious problem facing Coletta is, according to the lawsuit, "profound abnormalities indicative of severe and permanent brain damage." The lawsuit also stated that Coletta "will never return to his pre-injury condition."

Fred Coletta fought back tears when asked to update reporters on his son's condition.

"Anthony takes baby steps every day but they're moving in the right direction," he said. "He has a long way to go, but everything seems to be moving the way it is supposed to go. The prognosis from the very beginning was very bad.

"He's a very strong boy, a very strong kid and he fights every day. We hope that he gets better but the prognosis is not very good. They said with what he has he has a less than one half of one percent chance to fully recover."

Coletta said the entire family has tried to remain hopeful and will never give up on their son, who they say is an extraordinary fighter.

"Our son Anthony is in the race of his life and like with all his other races he is out to win," Coletta said. "He pays no attention to the odds and neither do we. Anthony is a winner in every way. Our family is by Anthony's bedside nearly every night and wants the racing world to know how grateful we are for the outpouring of thoughts and prayers for our son.

"We want to thank you from the bottom of our hearts."

The suit was filed by Coletta's parents with a separate action taken on behalf solely of Fred Coletta, who was at Harrah's Philadelphia the day of the race and witnessed the spill firsthand. The suit claims that as a result of the shock of watching the accident Fred Coletta suffered insomnia, depression, crying spells, lost appetite, post-traumatic stress, aches, pains, nausea and other injuries.

Written by Bill Finley of Harness Racing Update

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Sunday, March 16, 2014

Joe Bongiorno Taken Off Meadowlands Mounts After Questionable Comments

When interviewed last night on the Meadowlands in-house and simulcast feeds driver Joe Bongiorno made comments about two of his horses that led many to believe he would not try to win the races.

With sixth race starter Shoobee’s Place and eighth race starter Code Word, Bongiorno mentioned that with next week’s Levy Series at Yonkers coming up that he was under instructions from the horses’s connections to take it easy on this night.

Minutes after the interview aired the Meadowlands judges took Bongiorno off both horses.

“He made some comments that he was considering driving them in a manner more aiming for next week rather than tonight,” said Meadowlands judge John Tomasello.

“We are concerned with the betting public here tonight and we wanted to see these horses driven in a way where they are given every chance to win. I don’t want to see someone not take a chance when faced with the opportunity.

“I have spoken to Joe . I am not saying that Joe was going to drive not to win, but he might not have been as aggressive as need to be to win. In the best interests of the betting public we thought it necessary to make changes.”

Bongiorno admitted that he didn’t exactly pick the right words but insisted he never would have purposefully lost with either horse.

“I guess I worded it wrong,” he said. “I shouldn’t have said I was going to race the horse conservatively. I am out there to win every race I am in. Watch me drive any race and if anything I am too aggressive.

"What I meant to say was I was going to race the horse off the helmet but I am still obviously going to try to win. Heading into the Levy I wasn’t going to be putting that horse on the lead or coming a hard first over.

"The plan was to race off the helmet, close home and hopefully win the race. I am always trying to win races. That’s why I am in the business.

"I am very competitive and I would never do anything not to win a horse race. It was a bad choice of words, that’s all.”

Written by Bill Finley of Harness Racing Update

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