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The Conscience of Thoroughbred Racing


HALLANDALE BEACH, AUGUST 29, 2020—Don’t know what created this musical earwig, but it came to mind as I exited the Gulfstream Park parking lot Saturday:

“Can you give me sanctuary?

I must find a place to hide, a place for me to hide

Can you find me soft asylum?

I can’t make it anymore

The Man is at the door” —Jim Morrison

On Wednesday morning I opened my Twitter feed and awakened to this reaction to the protestors chanting outside Churchill Downs, and the query from Andrea:

“Fuck who’s Derby? What’s the Derby got to do with BLM, Taylor, or anything else? Someone explain this to me like I’m 7. What am I missing here?” she asked.

I am active on Twitter about 30 minutes a day; half the time on Racing Twitter, the remainder making social commentary. I consider it the patriotic duty of every American who purports to support the democratic republic the founders envisioned. My response to Andrea:

“Their grievance is Breonna Taylor’s murder did not result in charges vs police who broke into her home. That community believes 2020 Derby should have been canceled out of respect. Has nothing to do with Derby; maybe they know CDI huge Mitch donor—see it more anti-govt. than anti-racing.”

Andrea responded immediately: “I didn’t know her murder took place in Louisville until this morning. Makes total sense now. Now I understand.”

I subsequently thanked her for being a reasonable person, rare in these divided states.

Indeed, some are late to the party, but they’re getting there. But the great Doc Rivers wasn’t late, nor were the Milwaukee Bucks, the first major sports team to protest the Kenosha, WI police shooting of yet another black man in the back–nearly four years to the day Colin Kaepernick’s knee inspired a movement.

The league followed, canceling that night’s round of playoff games; Kenny Smith of NBA on TNT walked off the set “in solidarity…”

Then came news of the WNBA, who really started it all, and one by one Major League Baseball teams began showing support for the ideal that all men and women are created equal in God’s eyes.

That night, as I was preparing to relax by the VCR and watch the season finale of Yellowstone, the Twitter ding sounded on my phone. It was from David B. who asked:

“You boycotting the Derby, John? Not watching, or wager on it? Just curious.” I am not a fisherman, but I recognize bait when I see it. I never met David, nor do I know who he is. I responded:

“I don’t see how boycotting one horse race has any bearing on correcting what’s wrong in this country. Only elections can fix that.”

“The problems in our country go far beyond Donald Trump…but that would be a good first step,” replied David.

It would be a first step on the long, dangerous road back from autocracy to democracy, which dates back to 1776, then 1865 and 1920 and 1947 and 1963-64. Finally, by law, all men and women by law were free and equal. In principle, yes; in practice, still not even close.

Nobody is born a racist, it is learned behavior taught at an early age in a society that has been comfortable with white privilege for 400 years.

Amidst what begins with the first amendment right of peaceful assembly, a global pandemic, escalating weather events, culture wars and a dissembling of America’s democratic institutions, “America’s Race” ranks up there with fireworks on the 4th of July: Essential Americana.

In the city of Louisville, protesters, including Pastor Timothy Findley Jr., leader of the Justice and Freedom Coalition, have called for Derby-146 to be cancelled out of respect for a 26-year-old African-American medical technician who was murdered in her home by Louisville police executing a no-knock warrant on March 13.

No one has been charged in her death. When police broke through the door in the middle of the night, the first shot was fired by Taylor’s current boyfriend who believed their apartment was being broken into. There has been very little transparency since, whistleblowing from inside sources notwithstanding.   

The day before the Tweet, protesters marched through Louisville, at one point gathering outside the main gate of Churchill Downs, hanging a sign that read “Justice for Breonna Taylor,” directing chants toward the track and telling those inside how they felt about this year’s iconic horse race.

A Brief History of Black Protest in Sports

The notion that sports and the people who play them, or work in those industries, should be above the fray, is nonsense. Change is a painful process.

Americans believe in their right to be entertained. Athletes, particularly those of color, are American-made millionaires and indentured servitude is the price one must pay, as if those who hire them don’t profit from the fannies they put in seats and the ability to command extravagant rights’ fees.

Protest in sports is nothing brand new, first given notice in another era but when the country was in upheavel 52 years ago. A Black Power salute on an Olympic podium resulting in Tommie Smith and John Carlos being blackballed for life.

Craig Hodges, whose two years of 3-pointers (87-for-181; 36-96) helped produce two NBA titles from 1990-92 and a visit to the Raegan White House where he chose to wear a dashiki, ultimately leading to his being waived by the Chicago Bulls.

Even though the Bulls offered to pay for half of his remaining contract, there were no takers. Four years ago, Kaepernick got the same treatment. The stories of these athletes are cautionary tales.

“To whom much is given much is required,” Hodges said in an interview. “I can’t tell you what to do with your bread, but those who have it are often times the least who speak about the issues because they don’t want to lose their bread, and that’s the sacrifice involved in the mission.”

“Shut Up and Dribble”

Be seen, not heard. Be like Mike and say nothing, even though you could do no wrong and say whatever you wish as the greatest b-baller who ever lived because, remember, “Republicans buy sneakers, too.”

“The Jordan Rules” state that only after celebrity status is earned can social criticism be tolerated:

Bill Russell’s 11 championships allowed him to become the NBA’s first black head coach, or allowed outspoken Charles Barkley, an OG Dream Teamer, the courtesy of a wink and a nod, or recognition of Lebron James as only-first-name-needed NBA royalty.

Even Allen Iverson, a tattoed celebrity star from the hood, was tolerated when for a brief time he was allowed to turn the NBA into the Hip-Hop Streetball League.

Essentially all sports stopped in March, but racing went on unabaited in Florida, Southern California and Arkansas. NBC, which owns the rights to Triple Crown and Breeders’ Cup but desperate for live sports programming, partnered with horse racing network TVG and the sport made the most of it. Subsequently, Saratoga Live programming raised it another notch.

Suddenly, racing’s hosts and analysts began translating racing jargon into English to such a degree that racing has made some new inroads. Horsemen began to explain the realities and rules of equine racing life to a lay audience.

Lamentably, all this took was a worldwide pandemic.

In late spring and summer, other tracks opened for racing. Some stopped when the virus, encouraged to spread due to the lack of a cohesive national policy, spiked once gain. Jockey travel bans were instituted. A national sport has become even more regionalized in the interests of safety for all.

On balance, horse racing has done an excellent job trying to contain the plague. The sport lends itself well to social distancing and mask enforcement mandates, able to continue without the concerns that contact-sports endure.

Barclay Tagg and Robin Smullen are two of my favorite horsemen and it is difficult to find many owners who are as genuine of Jack Knowlton.

But I’m not supporting the running of Derby-146 for them, or for the other trainers or owners. I’m doing it for the backstretch workers and their families without other means to support their familes.

Mostly, though, I’m supporting Saturday ‘s Run for the Roses because of Tiz the Law, my newest favorite equine athlete. He’s “one of the ones” I’ve been seeking out since I first started going to the races over a half-century ago.

Tiz the Law is an innocent in all this, a horse worthy of an opportunity to demonstrate that a successful conclusion of his three year old season, which has a long way to go still, can deliver Thoroughbred immortality in a sport where history matters.

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47 Responses

  1. My thoughts on reading your latest effort John are that HRI indeed represents “The Conscience of Thoroughbred Racing”, and you have extended the concept into the turbulent reality of our everyday lives. Give peace a chance. Good people on both sides? Even those not wearing their historic hood attire?

    John Pricci conveys not only a better understanding of thoroughbred racing’s conscience, but hopefully, for most involved, also racings inner soul. Right up their with Lincoln’s Better Angels Mr. Pricci. Before I incite too much rage, please read the quote below from one of America’s greatest leaders. (From Lincoln’s second inaugural address.)

    “I am loath to close. We are not enemies, but friends. We must not be enemies. Though passion may have strained it must not break our bonds of affection. The mystic chords of memory, stretching from every battlefield and patriot grave to every living heart and hearthstone all over this broad land, will yet swell the chorus of the Union, when again touched, as surely they will be, by the better angels of our nature.”
    – Abraham Lincoln

    Back to the Derby: I am still undecided on my Derby Horse John. I very much appreciate Tiz The Law and all connected, but am maybe simply just trying to find a passage around the favorite. Favorites always bring me back to Broadway Joe’s…”Kind of like kissing your sister” coimment, Lol.

    My interest and instinct still lead me to think maybe we haven’t seen the best of Honor A.P. Maybe just wishful thinking, but steady as A.P goes, 24, 24, 24….just maybe Tiz vs A.P. may revert back in time to an Alydar vs Affirmed contest. Now that would be awesome for the sport of racing and all racing fans.

  2. As a white man in America I can’t begin to explain how people of color feel or the racism they endure everyday. I think it would be ignorant to say all lives matter because that’s not the point. Maybe it should be said “BLack lives matter as much as white lives matter” That would be a more reasonable description. Equal rights under the law. And justice for all. Yet in a year filled with pandemic and protest, division and uncertainty we need something to place ourselves in a time out of only for two minutes. Horses are not political nor are they racist. There the best of there generation. The gold standard in equine excellence. For this reason I support the run for the roses and I promise my outrage will not change, nor my vote or my opinion during those two minutes this Saturday.

    1. Very well stated on both issues, Vincent. No, we cannot know how it feels but can freely admit that in this country the white man and, in fewer cases, woman has a head start in life. Yes, no one gets ahead without hard work, and that’s true across the board.

      They’re the best of their generation and they’re pretty damn good, stacking up against some of the better Derby fields I have seen. There is a standout favorite, but the supporting cast is deep and talented.

      And who knows? Depending on atmospherics and race shape, it might not even take two minutes… Thanks for weighing in and for your handicapping contributions when the spirit moves you on any given Saturday.

    2. If Black Lives Matter why do they keep on killing each other from Baltimore to St Louis to Chicago and New York on a regular basis especially on weekends without paying attention at whom they’re shooting at including young , Innocent children? Why do they act as if they were the only minority in this country ? Nobody else matters,not even the ever increasing Hispanic population that has ,or will soon pass,Afro Americans as the largest group ? Does anyone mention the discriminations and bias against Asians and Middle Eastern students whose grades and qualificatons are far superior to most others,especially in all areas of sciences but get declined because they ” already are over represented” even in Ivy League institutions of learning? Why,just to make room for unqualified,but Black applicants whether they are athletes or not ? Ain’t that Discriminatory ? Do we see these other people of,different, color make noise,loiter and over act up? Why is that same Afro American sect being over represented in jails?Because of injustices,bad lawyers or because they ve been found guilty of criminal acts ? There are no other ethnic or religious groups as well represented in prisons as the brown and black people..Coincidence?Racism ? Being related to present and retired officers and a detective I have heard,seen and read enough to say that,to me,Black Lies,yes Lies,don’t matter . Let us stop making excuses for criminals of all types,kinds,parties and affiliations.Nobody gave me or to my ancestors any shortcuts because of their Mediterranean ethnicity or someone else’s stereotypical conclusions. Only actions and facts matter,in and out of courts. Commit a crime,and get caught doing it? Gotta pay for it.Skin pigmentation,olive,Brown,light or black,does Not have anything toro with it.✌️

  3. I’ll play the Derby card, but I think I’m sitting out the Derby. I want Tiz The Law to win too much for me to play any potential overlays against him. NYers have 2 heroes in 2020; the non political one is Tiz The Law. I was in the Garden Terrace that rainy day when Empire Maker pounded Funny Cide, and I did not feel any overwhelming need for the NY bred to win that day. This Saturday is very different. I need this, and I think most if not all native NYers that follow the race feel the same way this time.

    1. Doc, I’m totally with you! I’m transplanted but New York courses through my veins and that will never change. I, too, want TTL to win badly.

      But I don’t have to avoid him parimutuelly because I generally don’t stop favorites in big spots when on the best horse. Didn’t stop Secretariat, or Slew, Big Brown, Street Sense–just a few of the ones I rooted hard for, particularly Slew–who they tried to stop in the starting gate!

      In your case, I think you would receive absolution in the vertical pool because there’s the chance he could win but you could lose, which I believe would be satisfactory offering to the Goddess of Whammy.

      1. I feel like Tiz The Law could become the biggest “New York” (NY breeding aside) horse since – who would it even be that was the last NY horse that really had people invested? Easy Goer?

        I think Unbridled’s Song was on the cusp of being that one after the Wood, but then the upset loss as a huge fave in the post Derby, Peter Pan kinda slammed the door on that.

  4. McD: Surely I do not even deserve proximity to such glorious company, but it does do a soul good to hear these days. Thank you for that. As you say, back to the Derby.

    I will never talk a man out of trying to beat a favorite, however worthy. Hence, the reason why the recent selection format change seems to be working: Identify the most probable winner and bet value with the best chance.

    There are three or four rivals that wouldn’t shock me if they win and Honor A.P. is either near or at the top of that list. I never met the man other than in a group interview situation but I love John Shirreffs and I love the matchup: Old School Barclay v Old School John, one for each coast, a natural.

    Don’t forget Derby post draw 11 a.m. Tuesday. Post draws matter, whether it’s six horses or 20.

  5. TTT

    Forget the trump-hating rhetoric, the racism, and the Covid 19 hoax, please, someone, just tell me who is going to run 2nd. Daddy needs a new pair of shoes!!!!!!!!!!!!

    1. Good things come to those who wait. As above, let’s see what the post draw brings Triple Ted.

    2. Honest question: if Covid 19 is such a hoax, then why does the president claim that his actions have saved millions of lives?

  6. TTT

    Thanks Johnny, I knew I could count on you. I’m putting a grand on what you tell me for the 2nd horse in the exacta. Got a feeling you’re gonna get it right.

    With all this quarantining, have been unable to squander money chasing women, and must get rid of some of this excess cash (my apartment is very small).

    1. T,
      Life as a “Shut-in” has reduced my own spending on everything except electricity. After playing very close to the vest at SAR and DMR, I too am ready to let the moths out on Kentucky Derby Day.

      Looking forward to lots of numbers and selections being shared and compared on these pages.

      Lebron James pointing out to ALL his young admirers that something is very wrong while they’re still at an age where minds can be changed has an impact the likes of which much more is needed.

  7. TTT

    Dear Doctor Disaster:

    Being a pari-mutuel investment analyst adept at handicapping horses is easy; handicapping people much more difficult. Not a political analyst, in fact not of this world or this century, but certainly can offer an opinion. Whatever the President said regarding saving millions of lives, or whatever anybody else says, does not change the truth, to wit: it’s a hoax. The President did not create the hoax, but was sucked in by it, and by the time he figured out he had been bamboozled, most surely realized that if he did not want to lose the election; well, you know the old adage, “never change horses in midstream.” Thank you for asking my opinion; I am honored. Getting back to what is really important, below are my Oaks figures. Remember TTT always makes money for his partners.


    Ted of the Turf

    No. Horse Oaks M/L TTT

    1 Swiss Skydiver 2.369279172 – 4.06
    5 Gamine 1.734369753 – 5.55
    3 Donna Veloce 1.185031091 – 8.12
    4 Speech 1.069061237 – 9.00
    7 Shedaresthedevil 0.723608866 – 13.30
    2 Tempers Rising 0.582222555 – 16.53
    8 Hopeful Growth 0.541981608 – 17.76
    9 Dream Marie 0.352555797 – 27.31
    6 Bayerness 0.339568835 – 28.35

  8. T, interesting that your figures reflect same as HRI’s GSR Ratings, with SS a tad better than Gamine. ThoroGraph has a wide disparity the other way. Fascinating matchup and, with me, Speech is not out of this by any stretch… May the best filly win!

  9. TTT

    Looking forward to Friday and Saturday in a world gone made. Will be playing the “My Old Kentucky Home” on the harmonica, which I do every year on Oaks and Derby day. Stephen Foster would be proud. Let’s hope they will never take this part of Americana from us.

    Top Turf Teddy

  10. On my way back to Long Island and while hoping that my usual OTB hang out on 110,Melville- Farmingdale will be open,clean and not crowded have a suggestion for someone looking for new shoes and that is buy Authentic brands even if in a New York Traffic chasing the Law. Honor AP as a bonus if you will find my size,13 wide or 14.Wont keep from remaining as Authentic as I can. Donna Veloce,fast woman,reminds me of the 70s music,slang ,skirts, 25 cents slices of pizza and my first car.It all came together,as that Beatles song..Those were the days in life and sports,including harness and flats besides boxing among middle and heavy weights competitors. Bet a couple of CD races, doing well but…. What is the Story with that second rate Shoot ? It reminds me of Thistledown when it was run by the owners of the San Fran 49 ers,Di Bartolo Sr and Jr. It does not look classy.✌️Passed on Saratoga because of track conditions: Off the grass.Gotta stay disciplined.✌️✌️

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