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The Conscience of Thoroughbred Racing

Racing’s Leaders Need Speed AND Stamina

Tuesday, June 25, 2019

In 2019, “Equine Mortality” has replaced “Kentucky Derby” and “Triple Crown” at the forefront of media commentary on Thoroughbred racing. This phenomenon followed the death of 30 horses at Santa Anita since DEC 26, resulting in the suspension of race for several weeks. Thus, one more layer of frustration was added to racing’s lack of a coherent, cooperative, credible response to “industry malpractice.” I also wish TSG had not invited the terrorist group PETA into the discussion they aren’t going anywhere anytime soon, if ever.

By Indulto

Perhaps the most moving piece was written by Margaret Ransom who simultaneously confuses and clarifies her criticism:

“I personally never have been on board with the concept that breakdowns are “part of the game.” Even one racehorse death is too many

On one hand, Ms. Ransom labels PETA as “terrorists” then deploys their language and perspective in accepting an unrealistic goal of zero breakdowns.

I also know horses,” she continued, “and know how keeping them safe in every discipline is an enormous task… I also know that in racing, 95 percent of the people are in the game because they love horses and care for them and wouldn’t willfully put them in danger.

“Knowing these things and relaying them to the critical public are two separate things entirely.”

Even if the “95%” figure is accurate, the public can’t be blamed for discounting their intent given that their silence enables the “5%” who willingly do put horses in danger, with little fear of retribution.

” What I do know is that not enough is being done, conveyed and even expressed by those with the most strength, power and influence. Somehow, everyone with any clout needs to put differences aside and do something — anything — to show the world what we’re really all about.”

Fan and customer skepticism is fueled by a lack of transparency that would allow public access to all relevant data and avenues to be pursued regarding breakdowns. The lack of cooperation that would demonstrate a commitment to find solutions as a practical matter in regard to potential effects on larger sample sizes.

“To be or not to be”

The situation at Santa Anita had other consequences. The cancellation of the Grade II San Felipe Stakes — a virtual Win-And-You’re-In event – eliminated a key prep for Derby hopefuls. Oaklawn Park split its 50-point Rebel Stakes into two divisions and awarded fewer points to each set of earners; potentially altering final eligibility rankings.

Even worse, however, is the possibility that Santa Anita will be shut out of its scheduled hosting of Breeders’ Cup this fall. Offering to “help” by hosting the lucrative event in successive years, Churchill Downs looms the most likely replacement. But what message would that send to racing’s declining supporters and growing detractors?

According to Caitlin McGlade, “The Courier-Journal in March reported that 43 thoroughbreds had died at Churchill Downs since 2016.

“The Kentucky Center for Investigative Reporting requested records that would further detail the circumstances of those deaths; race horse necropsies filed by veterinarians and data the state submits to an industry database that tracks race horse deaths and injuries.

“The commission not only refuses to release the data and state law keeps the relationship between veterinarians and clients confidential… the racing commission’s position on open records makes it harder for the public to hold accountable some of the racing industry’s biggest players.

“ Track fatalities in Kentucky are on the rise: they nearly doubled from 23 in 2017 to 38 in 2018, according to statistics in veterinary reports obtained through a public records request.

“The public should be able to independently look for trends … to have access to these records to enable us to assess at every level how these responsibilities are being discharged; how seriously [state officials] are undertaking the effort to expose what the problem is.”

The preceding excerpts clearly indicate why public confidence continues to erode in racing’s ability to operate legitimately and humanely. The existing system of independent jurisdictions is being exposed for its combined lack of transparency, integrity, and credibility.

It is a waste of time to continue dismissing, discrediting, or ignoring racing’s critics. Now is the time to prove that every effort is being made to prevent breakdowns and to identify and sanction those not in compliance with that objective — that 5% who have already ruined the game for most of us, and are now destroying it.

It seems to me that those who oppose any manner of “government intervention” on philosophical grounds under these circumstances are actually helping the animal rights activists grind racing to a halt. A new order is necessary for racing to survive, and defining its structure should be the priority of those who want to see racing continue.

Whatever form of central racing authority is implemented, however, it should not be limited to medication testing. It must also oversee wagering, officiating, breeding, sales, working conditions, and any other industry aspect known to involve questionable practices.

Where there’s a will there’s a way, but little appetite for change exists among predominantly self-interested incumbencies that benefit from the status quo.

“To have or have not”

The “Nightmare in Arcadia” finally ended on Sunday, June 23, but not before trainer Jerry Hollendorfer was asked to move all his horses out of all tracks operated by The Stronach Group. The 30th and final breakdown occurred the day before on the training track, and it was the Hall-of-Famer’s 4th of the meeting. It came on the heels of a CNN video focusing in part on his prior 3 fatalities.

Most media sources referred to Hollendorfer’s record of 7,617 winners from 33,519 starters with career purse earnings just shy of $200 Million, but none provided the total number of breakdowns suffered by his trainees over that 40-year period. By the next day, however, Hollendorfer was assured by NYRA and Los Alamitos management that his entries would be welcome.

Too many questions remain unanswered for Hollendorfer to fairly be judged a villain or a scapegoat by the public as yet another jurisdictional fracture has emerged. The process clearly needs refinement, including specificity of rules violated, evidence of violation with sanctions applied everywhere appropriate.

Del Mar will continue the safety reviews implemented at Governor Newsom’s insistence. Assuming Hollendorfer is not excluded from running there, it will be interesting to see how a different team reviews his entries. California horsemen need to be perceived as doing all they can to reduce fatalities–before a ballot measure to ban racing breaks from the voting booth.

© Indulto,, June 25, 2019, All Rights Reserved

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8 Responses

  1. I-
    No group ever lobby for government intervention, until horseracing did. It’s a desperate shot at a bailout from responsibility and a hollow one at that. Barr-Tonko has never made it out of subcommittee and neither will Gillibrand-McSally. Backing either is just posing because both bills will never become law.

    1. MB,
      Very nice work by you and JP on HRI 2.0!

      I don’t endorse either the House or Senate versions of the bill because it will take a lot more than more trustworthy and more comprehensive testing to put racing on the right track. That said, only the Federal can eliminate the independent jurisdictions and establish a body with the authority to deal with all industry-related issues that discourage confidence in its operation.

  2. I,

    Very anxious to see the program scratches that will emanate from Del Mar this summer given the aggressive scratching of runners in the waning days of the Santa Anita meet. Of course, the quality of racing will be at a higher level, on balance, but no track can survive this era of mega-race programs without claiming stock to fill the card..

  3. JP,
    Perhaps the claiming game will become more circumspect with the absence of lasix. The entry reviews will be critical and perhaps penalties for entering horses rejected as unfit would help. The horsemen must prove they can run horses with minimal risk of danger, and soon!

    Jockeys must be held accountable as well. The days of Cordero and Ycaza are over. It’s also important to prevent injuries like those to Corey Nakatani and Victor Espinoza.

  4. I,

    You just addressed something that gets little attention in the racing safety debate; race riding. It is out of hand. Horse backing is dangerous enough without having to think the best way to combat a rival that may be carrying you out or bearing in on you putting unnecessary strain on jockeys that need to consider evolving whipping rules and horses forced to race in close quarters by fiat, not by the unknowns of “racing luck.”

  5. The news that NYRA has suddenly reversed its announced position with respect to Hollendorfer suggests two possibilities to me:
    1) They have looked at the data on all his fatalities and determined that a troublesome pattern has emerged.
    2) Gov. Cuomo did not want to yield his title as toughest Governor on racing.

    If the first, one can only hope that all trainers are subjected to similar scrutiny, and that the public gets to know the full details sooner than later.

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