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The Conscience of Thoroughbred Racing


I’ve scoffed at the hysteria that thoroughbred racing is facing an existential crisis, except maybe in California.

Horse racing is too entrenched in the culture of America to be legislated out of existence. Some say it is America’s oldest sport. Too many jobs and, more importantly, too much money is at stake. Think tobacco.

I might have to modify my unwavering confidence due to a bill that passed the House of Representatives last week. The Preventing Cruelty and Torture Act of 2019 is as appealing and non-controversial on the surface as its title suggests.

The bill passed the House unanimously. If passed by the Senate, where it has 39 co-sponsors, only 11 or 12 short of what is needed, and no known opposition, it would make federal crimes of crushing, burning, drowning, suffocating, impaling or sexually exploiting animals.

Who could be against that? Indeed, one of the co-sponsors, Rep. Anthony Brandisi (D-NY) said, “Cracking down on animal abuse is an issue that unites Democrats and Republicans.”

There are several exemptions, all of which make sense: normal veterinary procedures, slaughter for food, medical and scientific research, the protection of life and property, euthanasia procedures, predator and pest control, hunting, fishing and trapping.

If the latter three weren’t excluded, the uproar would have been such that there is no way this bill would have even gotten out of committee.

Conspicuously missing from the exemptions is horse racing. Why? Could it be the contretemps at Santa Anita has intimidated lawmakers?

While none of the forbidden activities would seem relevant to racing, the title of the act leaves a cavernous hole for activists to contend racing is cruel and torturous. This is exactly what we’re seeing in California and it is having an effect.

All it would take is a calamitous mishap in a nationally televised race such as the Breeders’ Cup or Triple Crown events to activate an attack on racing that would be difficult to counter. There are more animal lovers than racing fans and they have loud self-appointed spokespeople.

The bill  has not been passed through the Senate, so there is still time for the NTRA, the Jockey Club and race tracks to get legislators, who aggressively court support from racing at election time, to give the sport the same exemption fishing and hunting have.

I’m not advocating the end of fishing or hunting, as if that is even thinkable. However racing doesn’t approach the cruelty and torture of landing a hook into the mouth of a fish, who fights to exhaustion to escape and survive, or sitting in a tree in camouflage waiting to blow away Bambi.

Fishing and hunting just have stronger lobbies and voter bases.

If these sports rate exemption, racing deserves no less. Let’s hope the fact that an exemption for racing wasn’t included in the existing bill is an easily correctable oversight.

Mishaps unavoidable

The fatal injury last week of Line of Duty, winner of the 2018 Breeders’ Cup Juvenile Turf, is no more, no less tragic than those of any of the horses who have perished at Santa Anita this year.

But it does underline some realities. No matter how diligent and careful racing is, bad things will occasionally happen.

Line of Duty was based in Europe, where Lasix and other drugs are not permitted. He trained and raced on courses, mostly turf, far more forgiving than American dirt courses. Also training in Europe is done in a less demanding manner than on this side of the Atlantic. Speed works are rare.

Finally, as a colt with a Breeders’ Cup triumph on his resume, assuring a lucrative career in the breeding shed, it’s safe to assume he was treated regally by his connections. Yet the fatal accident happened.

No many how many safeguards are put into place, accidents can’t be totally avoided in any sport. Attempts to find scapegoats are just political grandstanding.

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11 Responses

  1. Well written. Remember the ski jumper who crashed and was part of the opening for Wide World of Sports? I remember hearing that he died and the last I checked, Ski Jumping is still part of the Winter Games. The Sport of Kings will keep on keepin’ on but the example of the deer hunter hunkered down in a tree in camo also applies to those that want to see the sport fade away. They will also be watching, just as predict above. The MAX foul (or perceived foul) of WOW in Derby was a blessing in disguise. Had War of Will gone down, or worse, the game would be in even deeper waters. I have no idea if MAX should have come down but I do know Cordero smacked Genuine Risk on her face and Pimlico did NOTHING. Different times, I guess.

  2. UPDATE: Vinko Bogataj (Yugoslavian Ski Team) did not perish on famous approach in Olympics. Became an artist and was always remembered for his “agony of defeat.” Jim McKay was pretty cool and loved horse racing. Maryland loved him back with a stake in his name.

  3. Sorry, Tom, I know I am skiing off course with Olympics metaphor but sometimes you can find parallels in unusual places. The daggers are out for horse racing and I am praying there are no mishaps this weekend at The Great Race Place.

  4. Jim McKay almost single-handedly created thet Maryland Million.
    It’s too bad racing doesn’t still have his voice to counter some of the outrageous allegations against the sport.

  5. Two great commentators.

    Wish I knew the answer TJ but, like Houston, racing has a problem that needs addressing.

    Perhaps just because slopes are slippery, it doesn’t necessarily mean the end of Little Rico. (Sorry, couldn’t resist a movie reference from a far less complicated time).

    Happy Halloween… Happy Breeders’ Cup… May all the horses have safe and speedy journeys!

  6. TTT

    “Conspicuously missing from the exemptions is horse racing.” Tom, at times, I have trouble understanding, so you believe that “Horse Racing” should be added as an exemption to this bill, thereby admitting that horse racing is cruel, but should be exempt? Would seem to me that we should distance ourselves from such a bill, and ensure that horses are treated humanely in every manner, and start by banning race day medication of any kind, thereby giving critics and adversaries nothing to complain about.

  7. There is no such admission. The other exemptions aren’t for cruel acts. What I said was racing needs an exemption so the trouble-makers from PETA and its acolytes, who twist everything, can’t use the bill’s title as an excuse to kill racing.

  8. I’m still pro Tapeta.
    Believe it’s the future of horseracing.
    Watch for it to come back in Southern California.

  9. Synthetics might be the last refuge for Santa Anita, and while Tapeta has made advances with a much better safety record, something that Michael Dickinson has not been shy about promoting in the lead up to Breeders’ Cup. Wonder what he’s thinking today?

    Meanwhile, like to reiterate that the Cushion Track surface in place at Hollywood Park played more like dirt than any synthetic I’ve seen. And I do like the way races develop at Presque Isle, and I think that’s Tapeta. (I invite corrections).

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