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The Conscience of Thoroughbred Racing


Not a lot of suspense or controversy in this year’s Eclipse voting, so I’m going to detour to a new award I’ve created. Racing Person of the Year, ala Time Magazine.

The Time title can be a slight misnomer. The winner doesn’t have to be an individual. It can be a group of people, such as The Guardians—people who challenged power—in 2018; The Silence Breakers—women who spoke up and started the Me Too movement—in 2017, all the way back to the American Fighting Man in 1950.

Nor does it have to be someone or something positive. Adolf Hitler and Josef Stalin (twice) have made Time’s year-end cover.

Conforming to these parameters my first Racing Person of the Year is obvious: PETA.

Bolstering PETA’s selection is the fact that the two closest contenders for the greatest influence on racing in 2019 are an individual, Belinda Stronach, and an organization, the California Horse Racing Board. PETA has intimidated both into making drastic and in some cases pointless changes in the way racing is conducted.

Use of the whip is on the way to being outlawed in spite of evidence that new whips do not sting at all. A demonstration at a recent horse racing assembly showed that it can be inflicted upon humans without raising even a grimace.

Santa Anita has been coerced into agreeing to cancel racing if it is too hot, too wet or too windy. Baseball and football players—human beings—routinely compete under such conditions.

Each of these will be arbitrary calls by people pre-disposed to err on the side of covering their behind. If this isn’t enough, Santa Anita must cancel 12 racing days for no reason at all.

PETA is masterful at incrementalism. It didn’t bring down circuses all at once. It got the elephants taken out of the show, then the lions and tigers. Eventually, there was no reason for the Greatest Show on Earth to continue.

Hall of Fame jockey Kent Desormeaux has left California. So has future Hall of Famer Joe Talamo. Martin Garcia has bugged out, too. They won’t be the last. There are limited opportunities when five- and six-horse fields are the new normal. Fans are as dismayed as the jockeys.

Doug O’Neill, always among California’s leading trainers, is shipping 30 horses to other tracks out of frustration with the way things are going at Santa Anita. Multiple Breeders’ Cup winner Peter Miller has dispatched a string to Kentucky. The exodus is ongoing.

PETA doesn’t have to get states to end racing. It will die of its own self inflicted wounds. 

PETA, often been branded a terrorist organization, has created a kind of Racing Stockholm Syndrome. “We’ll be good. We’ll do as you say. We know you really are our friend. Please don’t hurt us.”

Racing is groveling even as PETA is open and unrelenting about its ultimate goal to abolish horse racing. There is no compromising.

Racing must grow a pair and fight PETA on its own scorched earth terms. The industry needs to mount a campaign pointing out that for every race horse tragedy, PETA purposefully and unapologetically puts hundreds of dogs and cats to death. PETA’s donors need to be told that it totally rejects the concept of pets. Not many Americans know this. If they did, the attitude toward PETA would be what it should be: disgusted rejection.

There was a signature line in “Hill Street Blues,” my nominee for best commercial network drama of all time. Dispatching his officers each day, the sergeant would say, “Let’s do it to them before they do it to us.”

This should be racing’s attitude toward PETA.

The Eclipse Awards

The Eclipse Awards are a celebration of the best of racing. They also are an indictment of one of racing’s biggest problems.

The Eclipses are the sport’s way of saying, “These are our stars. These are the horses you should be excited about.” But what is the point when the stars perform as infrequently as Barbra Streisand?

My Eclipse ballot has eight horses capturing the 11 major awards for horses. Only two made as many as eight starts. One went to the post seven times. Two made six starts. Two likely champions made four starts. Another made three.

One of those who made just a half-dozen starts is certain Horse of the Year and Turf champion Bricks and Mortar. So the theoretical biggest attraction in the game was seen in action on average once every two months. How can anyone expect casual fans or potential new fans to get enthused about racing?

Here’s something to chew on. Maximum Security cinched the 3-year-old title in the Cigar, although this shouldn’t have been necessary. He had done enough already, especially compared to his leading challengers Code of Honor and Omaha Beach.

But suppose Maximum Security hadn’t gotten taken down at the Derby? He would have seven wins in eight starts, including America’s horse race. Would Bricks and Mortar still be a lock for Horse of the Year?

Thus it’s debatable that the Churchill Downs stewards not only took away America’s most coveted prize but also its greatest honor.

There probably will be some debate about my other selections for dual prizes. There is no contesting Mitole’s male sprinter supremacy or Covfefe as the outstanding female sprinter.

But I expect some might not agree with my designation as Mitole as best older dirt horse just because all his wins were around one turn. The same goes for my vote for Covfefe as outstanding 3-year-old filly.

There is no challenging Midnight Bisou as outstanding older filly.

Older turf filly is almost a coin flip. Uni and Mysistercharlie each had three wins and a third. Uni succeeded at the Breeders’ Cup against males. Mysistercharlie came up short against her own gender. Advantage Uni.

I cast a very unenthusiastic vote for Storm the Court in the 2-year-old male ballot. He won the big one, the Breeders’ Cup Juvenile, while no other horse of his generation won more than one Grade 1.

British Idiom gets my vote in the female category, again for winning at Santa Anita on Nov. 1.

I’m not optimistic either will be the leaders of their generation when they turn 3 but the Eclipses are for achievement not potential.

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22 Responses

  1. My source in Aqueduct Player’s Club says Uni. Love Mitole and appreciated your ringing endorsement of MAX and his “long, strange trip” this year. Couldn’t help defer to JP’s and MB’s affinity for songs in their postings. But alas, Mark Berner has also shipped out like the jockeys your mentioned. Not sure Ringling Bros is much of a “loss” as these wild animals do not belong anywhere near Penn Station in the winter. Want to see ’em, turn on Animal Planet. At least that’s how I see it. Did go to the old Garden as a kid and they actually had a “side show” in basement level. Weird and completely unacceptable by today’s harsh standards. As for your two-year old selection you are awarding Storm the Court when DM never even had a chance in BC Juvie. Maybe I’ve been drinking the Dennis’s Moment Kool Aid but this horse has a big future. Expect to be “all-in” on the first Saturday in May (if he starts, that is). Other than that you appear to have made great selections. Thanks for the posting.

  2. TJ, love your “Time” concept for Person of the Year, and PETA is an inspired choice. Patrick Battuelo might argue that he is a bigger “hater,” but that’s for some other time. And the “incrementalism” point is well made and correct. However, must take exception and/or note.

    Rightly or wrongly, the public thinks that whipping horses is inhumane or cruel. In fact, the perceptive former regulator Joe Gorajec just wrote an editorial on this. So the answer to correct these misguided perceptions is education, yes?

    But this fails to acknowledge that we live in a country where half the population can’t be bothered to learn anything about what’s going on in our part, or role, in the real world. Pay attention to horse racing issues? Don’t think so.

    As to five- and six-horse fields, this is not new to California at all, it has been the rule not the exception for a decade. Too much racing and little horse population are major contributors. So is the fact that California is at least 2,500 miles from the richest horse populations.

    Horsemen have proven over and over they will choose dollars over loyalty; I won’t argue that point, racing is expensive. But they choose to ship to tracks rich in casino-type dole. And Arkansas? Perfect. They don’t even make public their equine mortality rates.

    We might be in the ground by then, but the Feds are coming. And none too soon. Racing still shuns cooperation, transparency, even- handedness and reform with teeth across the board.

  3. C,
    Did you bail on my column before the last line? The Eclipses are for achievement, not potential.
    If you gave me a choice to own Storm the Court or Dennis’s Moment on the first Saturday of May, I’m with you on DM.
    As for the circus, it’s another victim of political correctness. For more than a hundred years, it gave kids (and their parents) a lot of joy.
    Hope you’re not one of those “I’m more compassionate than you” people.
    Self-styled moral superiority is not an endearing trait.

    1. Thank you for the clarification on Eclipse purpose. Dennis won’t win the award and you are correct in saying DM not only blew the start but Eclipse Award in a manner of seconds early last month. And, maybe he wouldn’t have won with a clean break. Not a big opponent of Circus style entertainment but, like with DM, may have started to sip on the Kool Aid that is flowing with spate of breakdowns in SoCal. Plus, I can’t stop remembering “where I was” when the great Ruffian hooked up with Foolish Pleasure and we all know how that worked out. Would have loved to have seen what li’l Ruffians would have done, you know. Came out of surgery and immediately reinjured herself. End of story. Sad. Sent a note to Frank Whiteley and received a photo and note back. Odds on he got a lot of these “letters.” But, you won’t see me at the entrance to Santa Anita holding a sign. I like your posts, TJ.

  4. JP,
    People are turned off by use of the whip is one of those urban myths. In more than a half-century of going to the races. writing about them and talking about them on radio I have never, NEVER, NOT ONCE heard one person say they stopped going to the track because of the whip.

    One caveat. If you ask someone unsolicited if it bothers them, you will get the socially acceptable answer.

    Then ask if they are aware that the new whips wouldn’t hurt a baby’s behind. Only people like you and I are aware of this.

    More to the point, as I wrote, if you think this is going to appease PETA and their accolytes, you are nuts.

    It’s easy to see why you are excited about the Feds coming. Look at the great job they are doing with opioids.

  5. False equivalency, TJ,; I think you’re confusing federal government with corporate payola, which will always win out.

    I live in the real world, but then the real world kept telling me federal oversight will never happen.

    Well, at least now it has a chance. It took seven years but a chance is a chance.

    You’re right. Under-educated horseplayers don’t think jocks are trying hard enough unless they’re banging away on some exhausted animal. Crutches are us; trainers want their Lasix; jockeys’ their whips.

    My opinion? Whips ONLY to steer drifting animals out of dangerous situations. Don’t misunderstand, I would prefer the 360-Whips myself, but I don’t get a seat at that table.

    Meanwhile, let me ask: Do you prefer to win the whip argument then watch as the under-educated non-horseplaying vote the game out of existence?? I didn’t think so…

    1. Enjoy your back and forth with fellow writer. TJ’s sentiment about the value of Flying Trapeze artistry is fine but caged Elephants? Glad the “Greatest Show on Earth” has shut down. There’s always Disney on Ice featuring Frozen if you want something to bring the kids to. It’s part of the Disney Machine so bring your wallet. Heard of a father who brought his kids to the parks in Orlando. Crowds were so big that he just threw money over the fence. Urban myth probably. Waiting 50 mins to go on Dumbo ride not fun. EZ-Pass needed. Speaking of which, did you know that if Santino Corleone had had EZ-Pass he’d be alive today (paying homage to GF, Pt. 1). Preferred Pt. 2 because of Old New York scenes. Oh, and young DeNiro. They asked me to say something about Michael Corleone but it was all lies-Frankie ‘Five Angels’ Pantangeli.

  6. The Feds came into Las Vegas in the 1990’s to audit en masse dealers. They knew that tip money was not being declared as income. Nothing became of it. More than a few times I would witness some inebriated player at dice or roulette table flip a c-note to dealer after a score. Sweet deal but high likelihood the tips are pooled. Also knew of a girl whose boyfriend dealt BJ downtown. She tried to work a scam with him and they got caught. Were not brought to the basement, like in Casino movie, and no hammer was used. Dealer was fired.

  7. JP,
    It seems the only thing we will ever agree on is our inability to agree (LOL). Oh well, we entertain the customers and not a whit of it is contrived.
    This is why we have two political parties, two sides of a coin and two sexes (I’m old fashioned about that).
    Merry Christmas.

  8. C,
    I’m guessing you never saw the look on a child’s face the first time they visited a circus.
    Now kids get their kicks sitting in front of a computer or on their smart phone playing games that are determined by how many people they can kill.
    I’m with you on The Godfather. Anyone asks my favorite movie of all time and I can’t split I and II. They are a coupled entry to me. Like your line about Santino. Wonder where Fredo would be. Oh, that’s right–on his own show on CNN.

  9. Fredo was smart, not dumb like everybody thinks. Loved John Cazale, great actor. That Johnny Ola knows these places like the back of his hand-Fredo in Havana before Mike has him clipped (Pt 2). Also loved Eli Wallach in Pt 3, a terrific actor on stage and screen. A legend. Hard to pick against Pt 1 but throw in Lee Strasberg in 2 and second film wins in a photo. A 10-minute photo. Or a dead heat. Both great.

  10. Jicha,

    Using the criteria established by Time and used by you, Belinda Stronach is a runaway winner for this award. It was under her watch that an unmitigated public relations disaster was allowed to develop and bring PETA into the discussion. Her attempts to shift blame, including the banning of HOF inductee Hollendorfer following a CNN hit piece that surely didn’t originate with the cable news giant, just helped PETA gain traction. She placed herself in position to be intimidated by that organization and placed an entire industry in jeopardy.

  11. EG,
    I had Belinda Stronach in the photo. I went with PETA because the perpetrator is worse than the enabler.

  12. Sonny would have been killed somewhere else if not on the causeway; he was a disaster; an arrogant out of control flesh creature. EZ pass is for leftist losers.

    1. Check out his son with the bridesmaid, Vincent Mancini. Played by Andy Garcia in Pt. 3. “Temper like his father,” says Michael. Hooks up with Bridget Fonda at Michael’s award ceremony. Ladies man like his father, too. Takes out Joey Zassa on horseback dressed like a city cop. “Who’s gonna win the car (Joey), your Aunt?”

  13. Horse Vinnie rode in GF Pt 3 former claimer at Big A. Not really but this is a horse racing site and I keep veering off course. Apologies to the faithful. JP, it’s your fault!

  14. You have included incorrect information about PETA, which is likely because your sources are those sites that gather and distill info incorrectly in order to defend their own practices. Go to the source. I am available to answer questions. We do not oppose keeping companion animals. On the contrary, PETA encourages adoption of animals. We say it often and loudly. I share my own home with a dog and cat. The idea that PETA opposes “pets” comes from quote more than 25 years ago that was “interpreted” to mean something it doesn’t. Regarding euthanasia, please see this short video for the animals we help:
    Healthy, adoptable animals taken in by PETA go to an excellent local shelter that has many visitors so they can be adopted. Disagree with PETA and criticize if you like, but tell the truth and verify facts, please.

  15. “Intimidated”? Shame on you. Have you lost count of how many horses have died. If the people “responsible” for their well-being won’t do a thing, they need to be called on the carpet.

  16. Who do you think you’re fooling? I used to bet on horse races, but my feelings changed when I learned about all the steroids and injuries and deaths. Responsible, caring people know that horse racing should be banned.

  17. Erm. Baseball and football players choose to compete, including in bad weather. Horses don’t. They’re forced to. And that gets to the heart of why so many people oppose horseracing. Not to mention the fact that so many horses have paid with their lives for humans’ “entertainment.”

  18. Lucy,
    Oldest cliche around. Race horses lead a better life than many humans and if you turned them loose, the first thing they would do is run. Ever see what they do when they throw a jockey. They still try to outrun the other horses.

    If humans didn’t partner with horses, the West Coast would be Plymouth Rock.

    More to the present, we will need horses to again pull the stage coaches and buggies after the Green New Deal outlaws cars and planes. (Don’t tell me about electric vehicles. Where do you think they get their power. From coal.)

    Fortunately, horses don’t fart (at least as much as cows), so they’re safe for the time being.

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