“Horseplayers are a group of people who exist outside the mainstream of normal society, and as a musician who grew up in the 60s and 70s, I know what that feels like,” said John Lyon, aka Southside Johnny. “We were mocked, we were oddballs, but we reveled in it because we didn’t want to be like the squares. The people at the racetrack, they are just the same as us. They don’t want to lead a normal life.”
Peter T. Fornatale, son of the late radio personality, wrote the italicized precede quoted above in a recent tribute to his late father.
Pete Fornatale was more than a disc jockey. He not only played the music that was the soundtrack of my life in the 1960’s, he was a musicologist who often talked about music as much as he played it on the radio in New York City.
Southside Johnny’s message resonates in today’s racing game because society does not know much about horseplayers or the sport. Aside from seeing an occasional news broadcast, the public has little to no interest in the game.
That should be Thoroughbred racing’s greatest issue; not People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals.
PETA is a small group with a loud voice that has effectively weaponized its message.
The Jockey Club wisely has formed alliances with the Humane Society of the United States and the American Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals.
TJC, ASPCA, HSUS, the Coalition for Horse Racing Integrity, the National Thoroughbred Racing Association, the Water Hay Oats Alliance and an independent group of trainers all support the Horseracing Integrity Act, aka Barr-Tonko.
They all talk the talk, but do not walk the walk. None of the people that have signed on to support HIA race their stock without drugs, even though they openly oppose it.
They do not want to lose the edge from supposedly non performance-enhancing medications. That in itself negates the claim that drugs regularly administered to racehorses are benign.
Not only that, HIA is not what they claim it to be and is no closer now to get out of subcommittee than it was when first introduced in 2011. HIA sets up a governing committee with the majority of its members being those industry leaders who have already proven ineffective.
It is easy to look good backing a bill with no chance of becoming law.
Last year, I criticized McKinsey and Co. for more than three decades of ineffectual support of Thoroughbred racing industry, following its presentation at The Jockey Club Round Table.
This year, McKinsey was absent on the surface but its activity behind the curtain was highly evident, working its forte, turning failure into fortune.
This kind of unified backing from the industry is the kind of secret sauce McKinsey whips up in its recipes for success.
TJC’s support of DOA HIA bill, and not the Racehorse Doping Ban Act of 2019, aka Udall-Wyden, or the Safeguard American Food Exports (SAFE) Act 2019, makes it seem as if the stewards of racing are moving forward to improve the reputation and integrity of the sport, but not supporting Udall-Wyden and SAFE clearly shows it is a publicity ploy.
HIA not only lacks the necessary support, it faces the opposition of the National Horseman’s Benevolent and Protective Association and Kentucky’s Senator Mitch McConnell, who acts on the wishes of Churchill Downs, and has no mechanism to fund itself.
Supporting a bill that has no chance to become law is the perfect ploy to placate the public and the perceived enemy, animal rights groups.
HIA not only places the same ineffectual industry leaders in a majority position on a board with government backing, it sets up the United States Anti-Doping Authority for a fall.
Udall-Wyden and SAFE, which would both be beneficial to the sport are absent of TJC support. SAFE in particular because it outlaws horse slaughter in the US and prohibits the export of horses for slaughter in other countries.
TJC will not support a slaughter-free industry because it will cost $120 million per year to fund the care of the 20,000+ horses bred each year.
People within the industry are overly sensitive to criticism because they recognize the failures: drugs, racetrack fatalities and overbreeding, which created an impossible situation for management of the retirement system.
The big problem is drug use, not use of whips, but mostly competition from sports betting endangers horseracing and it has passed by with the quick brush of a champion racehorse.
Sports betting works best as a mobile platform and not a brick and mortar enterprise. In fact, sports betting is even cutting into the profits of brick and mortar casinos.
Those are the very casinos that exist on racetrack property and keep racetracks above water.
Chronic traumatic encephalopathy (CTE) causes death by blows to the head, yet the National Football League and the National Hockey league are not even remotely worried that society or politicians will banish Football or Ice Hockey.
Thoroughbred horseracing’s leaders need to wake up to the fact that the industry isn’t an endangered species and get back to competing with sports betting, which is likely to have a much greater negative effect in the industry than horse deaths.
In one year, the narrative has changed from how to grow the sport to how to save it. The issues of growth have not changed, nor has the chance horseracing will be banished.
The time has come to take the reins and drive the sport into the future, not shrink from the actions of animal rights activists.
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