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The Conscience of Thoroughbred Racing


JULY 21, 2019–As the HorseRaceInsider Faithful know, the website that has the temerity to bill itself as the “Conscience of Thoroughbred Racing,” HRI does not back down when it comes to criticizing industry organizations or individuals when journalistically compelled to do so for a greater good.

But judging by the reactions we’ve seen on social media and observations made in the comments section of this website and elsewhere, there is no reason why the same critical standards that apply to the industry cannot be applied to the sport’s fans and gamblers.

Anyone tethered to the game knows that the industry has been under severe scrutiny by the general public due to the 30 horse fatalities at Santa Anita this winter. At minimum, the tragedy threatened horse racing’s existence in California, as city, state and federal authorities got involved in a process they know almost nothing about.

Eight racetracks; Belterra, Delaware, Ellis Park, Finger Lakes, Laurel Park, Parx, Penn National and Saratoga canceled their programs to varying degrees this weekend. A ninth, Charles Town, moved its Saturday post times back to 7:30 pm.

At Monmouth Park, as everyone knows, all non-stakes races were canceled after the first two races of the afternoon and an all-stakes program, concluding with the Grade 1 Haskell Invitational, commenced at 6:03 pm following a four-hour, 49 minute delay. The Haskell horses were off at 8:12 pm.

This just in: As many as four people died of heat exposure and 250 older residents were evacuated from a nursing home in Maryland by Saturday afternoon. By state law, horses that pull carriages in New York City were taken off the streets to resume their duties when temps ‘drop’ to 89 degrees. The Heat Index at 1:17 pm in Oceanport on Haskell day was 110. The point? Punishing heat kills.

As for Thoroughbred racing in state of New Jersey, Monmouth Park desperately tried to find a place in the lucrative Saturday betting market at a highly competitive time of year. It moved the date of its premier event program up a week from what normally would have been one week from today.

And they might have accomplished their goal this year if not for the highly unusual atmospherics. The weather gaveth, then the weather tooketh away. The program finally began after the first of two delays, track management gambling on a summer wind that would be blowing in from across the sea. They lost.

It was nice to see that not all horseplayers were unreasonable: “Just returned from the Spa,” tweeted racetrack regular “The Woodman” in mid-afternoon.  “Good decision to cancel racing on Saturday, 102 degrees as we approached Long Island.” This sentiment was representative of the horseplaying minority.

The source of ire is what many fans and bettors perceived to be an exorbitant amount of caution; a serious breach of the inconvenience by-laws. Never mind the inordinate amount of intense scrutiny on an industry that may be one high-profile accident away from oblivion.

No racetrack wants their legacy to be “it was the beginning of the end.”

In troubled times, given today’s hyperbolic, penetrating spotlight, how can any track be condemned for second-guessing itself and exercising extreme caution? The inconvenienced will be happy to know that the decision to cancel Monmouth’s Sunday program was made yesterday.

The Gulfstream/South Florida racing argument is disingenuous. It’s one thing to live with this kind of heat as a matter of course; it’s another to have dangerous heat thrust these animals. Horses known to be non-sweaters are routinely shipped out of Florida when temperatures begin to rise.

As an aside, with nine out of 10 racehorses running on Lasix, even if one accepts that the medication helps horses breathe by limiting the effects of exercise-induced pulmonary hemorrhage, what about the dangers of dehydration caused by Lasix’s diuretic properties?  Where is that tipping point exactly?

And what of the health of the human handlers who work with thousand-pound animals in the course of a race day in this kind of environment? And what of the jockeys, the fittest athletes on earth, who closely monitor their weight by sweating off a few pounds? I can’t begin to imagine taking in air that feels like 110 degrees while pushing on a half-ton animal at 40 mph.

Polls indicate that Americans care about animals more than they do their fellow humans. So, in addition to current public and governmental scrutiny, hounding from opportunistic animal rights groups, and with an undereducated mainstream media ready to pounce on the next sensational tragedy, what is the correct and prudent call? When is the right time to call it? Damned if I know.

Perception is a very big deal today; reality some would say. Physical issues can occur at any time for myriad reasons. If a horse suffers irreparable injury, opinions that racing never should have begun in the first place would have been heard from a public that doesn’t know any better. In this era, blame will always trump empathy.

At this point in time, horse racing is through the looking glass. What happens the next time tragedy strikes? Is the need for action-on-demand so intoxicating that caution can be thrown to the wind? Tell me racing fans and horseplayers, are you feeling lucky?


At the end of a great stretch duel at Monmouth Park Saturday night, I was happy about two things: That Johnny Velazquez and King For A Day survived a dangerous, possibly catastrophic incident on the far turn and that the best horse, Maximum Security, won, bringing some order to a talented, albeit chaotic three-year-old division.

After a backstretch-long tactical game of equestrian cat-and-mouse, three horses; King For A Day, Maximum Security and Mucho Gusto, moved in tandem passed a tiring longshot leader. They hooked up briefly three across the track, King For A Day inside, Mucho Gusto outside and Maximum Security, the meat in an equine sandwich.

But it was only King For A Day on the fence who got the squeeze, as the trio raced in very close quarters at mid-turn. In sports parlance, it was a bang-bang play, no pun intended. Pressure was put on the rail-running horse just as it began to tire.

A hooked-up Maximum Security and Mucho Gusto went on with it, and as they both held their place while trying not to lose any ground, they tightened it up on King For A Day, forcing Johnny to check out. Eventually, the judges made the right call, allowing the result to stand.

But the issue was very much in doubt at headstretch. Mucho Gusto had the momentum and it appeared he would grind down the Derby “winner” through the stretch. But Maximum Security showed high class, winning the eyeball test over an improving “now horse.” It was daylight back to third finisher, 34-1 Spun to Run.

Maximum Security’s mile and an eighth went in 1:47.56 over a surface that didn’t play as if it were souped-up. The 2019 Haskell was a strongly run event throughout, given splits of 22.92, 46.71, 1:10.17, 1:34.96, the winner getting his final furlong in a very worthy 12.60.

Now it’s on to Saratoga and the AUG. 24 Derby of Midsummer, the Travers, and a possible date with divisional stars such as War of Will, Game Winner, Owendale, Code of Honor and Mr. Money, among others.

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28 Responses

  1. JP-
    I hear you about the heat and public perception, but Arlington raced in 97 degree heat without criticism, incident and interruption of the card. I think the influence of animal rights groups upon racing is a lot of the tail wagging the dog, especially when PETA’s business model is to euthanize tens of thousands of dogs and cats each year. Others on that side of the fence have conflicts, as well. More on this and that from the other side on Tuesday.

        1. There is no nationwide sheltering program so there aren’t nationwide euthanasia numbers. PETA has only a single shelter, at that operates at our Norfolk, VA, office, and services some of the poorest areas of the country where there are few veterinarians. This shelter does not have cages, but comfortable rooms for animals to be in temporarily. Animals who aren’t too sick or injured to be adopted are transferred to a nearby animal shelter that has lots of people coming in to adopt. It’s a tiny portion of the work our Community Animal Project does. Please see here for more detailed information including ALL stats on animals we helped in 2018:

  2. Looking forward to Tuesday; you make many valid points although don’t know how much humidity plays into any of this. I do realize the middle of the country can be brutal — and interesting that their all-weather doesn’t melt in the dark like MacArthur Park.

  3. JP, baby, once again, the prolific manner in which you arrange words, almost had me believing your arguments. I remain a survival of the fittest kind of guy, and believe that racing should not have been cancelled anywhere. News Flash!!!! It’s summer, and in the summer it gets hot!!!!!! Been getting hot for thousand of years in the summer!!!!! No worries, just heard on CNN summer has been cancelled…..

    Just for your knowledge and edification, you might recall, as I’m sure you were there, as was I on June 9, 1973, when Secretariat made history, the temperature hit a scolding 97 degrees, with devastating humidity. What say you now all you righteous railbirds?


  4. I was there as well, Ted, remember the heat, not the humidity. Don’t think we can check because I’m not sure there was something called a Heat Index back then. If there were, no one talked about it.

    There is one thing I want to check on, though. I heard that Monmouth Park did not extend the courtesy of offering free admission, parking, program vouchers for another day, whether or not they left for good after the first two races of not. Need to study further.

    Certainly a thank you gesture for 4-1/2 hours of inconvenience–after all, Monmouth DID decide to open, would have been appreciated. Some fans who came for the event, to see the Derby “winner” and are not racetrack regulars, may have no incentive to return.

    I expect to be in the minority on this. But at least I didn’t get the sense that you’re a climate denier; that’s something anyway.

  5. “… there is no reason why the same critical standards that apply to the industry cannot be applied to the sport’s fans and gamblers.

    … At this point in time, horse racing is through the looking glass. What happens the next time tragedy strikes? Is the need for action-on-demand so intoxicating that caution can be thrown to the wind? Tell me racing fans and horseplayers, are you feeling lucky?”

    Indeed, JP, how can cooperation among horsemen, track operators, and racing regulators be expected, when similar behavior isn’t forthcoming from fans and gamblers? But why should anything otherwise be expected from the human population as exploited by the industry as extensively as its equine population?

    Is it any wonder transparency is being avoided at all cost when existing customers and media are seen to represent the most fertile recruiting grounds for the animal activists?

  6. Indeed I, in some cases absolutely true. Perhaps if fans/gamblers were treated better, they would stop their complaining. I just wish we could see some positive suggestions from the rank and file instead of constant complaining. Surely the public must understand that if they keep playing the same notes, the comments become the kind of Muzak people hear as background noise but pay no heed to it…

  7. Ms. Guillermo,

    A recent L.A. Times article suggested that PETA’s objective for California racing may not be total abolition:
    ‘Del Mar will not immediately see high-profile protests from PETA, the largest animal rights organization in the country. Kathy Guillermo, PETA senior vice president, said PETA wants to give Del Mar the opportunity to enact the new measures and gauge the results.

    Guillermo said she believes that racing should be working toward a zero-death rate at meets.

    “There is no reason for a horse to die for entertainment purposes,” she said. “Accepting deaths is saying you’re losing the battle without bringing out the big guns.”’

    No one can possibly guarantee there will be zero racehorse deaths at any given meet, but track operators, state regulators, and horsemen could certainly ensure that every effort to prevent them was being made, and be prepared to prove it to the public.

    Would such reform bridge the gap between you and recreational bettors like myself who want a fair game that respects and doesn’t merely exploit it’s participants–equine or human?

  8. Mr. Pricci: You write ‘I just wish we could see more positive suggestions from the rank and file instead of constant complaining’. How about positive suggestions from Turf writers?

    Haven’t read one comment yet about the running of the Lake George with only three entrants, all trained by Chad Brown, from turf writers; to me this happening hits at the very core of why Thoroughbred racing is declining in popularity: failure of the so-called top racing associations to provide races that offer bettors an opportunity to win serious money, instead of constantly throwing money at a select few trainers via stake races that seem to have only five or fewer entrants (yes Alice, I know we should be using these races to get involved in the sucker bets like pick three and pick four).


    The management of Monmouth kept their streak alive: Haskell Day was once again a financial disaster. Who is their right mind would stay at a racetrack and wait almost five hours for the next race? And those that opted to wait watched the Ocean Port with four entrants with the winner paying $5.40; the Molly Pitcher with five entrants and the winner paying $2.10; the Wolf Hill winner paying $5.00; the Watchmaker with three entrants with the winner paying $5.80; and, the Haskell with six entrants with two platers going off at 34-1 and 42-l and the winner paying $3.60. If some bloke had all five winners it might have covered a couple beers and a dog, I think!

    Mr. Pricci, doesn’t the Monmouth fiasco Saturday indicate that the public isn’t going to take much more of it; that manage had better start providing races that have at least six entrants, races that give bettors some enthusiasm to handicap and to win some profitable bets; and to stop kissing the butt of a few trainers? Why can’t a race with five or fewer entrants be cancelled or the purse substantially reduced? Why aren’t you turf writers addressing the real number one issue destroying public interest in Thoroughbred racing?

  9. OMG, I agree more than disagree with my pal Wendell.

    What Monmouth did to fans was worse than the tracks that outright canceled. To say we’re racing then have fans wait five hours for the races they came to see. which were scratched down to ridiculously short fields, was unconscionable.

    Somehow lost in the shuffle was a brief item that the governor of NJ got involved in the decision, another example of what happens when you invite politicians into the tent. Remember NJ gave Monmouth millions (which the state can’t afford).

    I’m also in accord with Mark and would like to add something. The entire slate of Major League baseball games was played Saturday, many in the hottest part of the day. Not a single death of fans or players.

    Let’s just say out loud what you kind of danced around. Racing is running scared. As you said, there are justifications but once you start going down this slippery slope there’s no stopping.

    Let me clarify one thing from my critical comments last week. If Saratoga wanted to cancel a Thursday card at Belmont, I would still criticize it to be an over-reaction. But doing it on Saturday at Saratoga, when people schedule vacations months ahead and lay out large non-refundable deposits on hotels and motels, shows no regard for the people who make the game go.
    JP, as a former resident of the Spa, I don’t think you get this. When you live there and racing is canceled, no big deal. When you travel hundreds of miles at great expense it is a very big deal.

    1. TJ, will not argue these points. They are not invalid but if they are similar to WMC’s I get the idea.

      But pardon me if I don’t feel badly for people in this day and age that can afford to go to Saratoga in the first place.

      I can empathize, yes, but it’s the $2 player who has to think three times before stretching his bet to $5 or $10 on some horse he loves i feel badly for. That player probably is on a fixed income–we are ALL socialists–or is working an extra shift.

  10. Tom, you hit the nail on the head. All these cancellations were not done for the good of the sport. They were done by an industry that is running scared and has no competent manager at any level. Thus no plan and chaos prevail.

  11. JP,
    Like you, I’m on a fixed income: Social Security and a small pension. But Saratoga is important enough to me to make the sacrifices necessary for an annual visit. I don’t think this makes me a one-percenter and certainly not a Socialist. I paid into Social Security for almost 50 years.

    Also, as you know from our long friendship, I’m still basically a $2 player (as a basic bet; I put more into multi-race wagers).

  12. I have for decades been uncomfortable with thoroughbreds running in races when the temperature was in the upper nineties. Many, to me, appeared ‘washed out’ in the post parade and I have always avoided wagering on races when the temperature was very high; how can any bettor believe that the plodder will deliver a solid performance? Yes, things are changing: safety and caution now in vogue. I find myself on the side of racetracks that cancel racing when the temperature is way above normal; simply makes sense to me. But, cancelling just a few races, as Monmouth did, and delaying the starting time of the others by hours was ridiculous and doing such made it crystal clear who management considers more important (and it ain’t us, Alice).

  13. The biggest danger facing racing in the next few years is the proliferation of super stables. We have too many trainers with 150 horses and this number is growing. Every time a new owner gets in the game he ends up with a super trainer. This ends up with what we saw last week at Saratoga. Three horse fields r bad for everyone except the participants and much worse when all 3 r trained by Chad. The NYRA Racing office pretty much knew this race would scratch to 3 and still had to card it. This will only get worse. The handle on these exhibitions is atrocious and by running them a precedent is set. We have good horseman who can’t survive with six horses and we have the super stables with up to 200 horses at multiple locations controlling the game. The old maximum limits were 40 and the tracks slowly disregarded that number and created this farce. I don’t think there is a way to turn back on this. The game has moved to where the public will bet a full field of cheap maidens and will go right past these ridiculously short field of Brown stake fillies.

  14. My God! Now I’m agreeing with Wendell. He made the point about horses washing out; I had made the point that “non-sweaters” were shipped north out of Florida because dehydration is good for no one.

    Wendell, I wasn’t wild about a 4-1/2 hour delay in way way, except that it was made on a common sense basis, that it would be less intense in the evening and early night time than mid-day.

    My agreement with Wendell–and this is empirical, I have not done any deep diving–is that high temperatures wreath havoc with the form. I have found that a disproportionate share of horses tend to not run their ‘A’ race at extremely high temperatures.

    As the planet continues to heat extreme atmospherics, hot and cold, I would expect more cancellations. Hopefully, it will be handled better.

  15. Jay, cannot disagree with anything you said. In fact, I had about 300 words in the can before things “heated up” on Saturday. Between that and Maximum Security, small fields went to the back burner but will be resurrected in the near future.

    Your point is exactly what we discussed a week ago Saturday at GP. (For the uninitiated, Mr. Stone is the official line maker at Gulfstream Park.

    We agree on the super trainer issue completely; that and “super computer” bettors dominating final odds at the point where the rest of the horse players cannot react to the approximate final odds.

    And anyone who makes the point we’ve always had late money in the game doesn’t understand the new dynamic or refuse to accept it.

    I’ve told this story before how–don’t know–10 or 15 years ago?–I ran into trainer Bobby Ribaudo walking into Belmont Park. I asked him how serious a factor the horse shortage was?

    “Horse shortage? he replied. “There’s a trainer shortage, not a horse shortage.” The chicken–fewer and few of them–have come home to roost.

  16. By and by, TJ, we fixed incomers–I have no small pension–are doing pretty well compared to lots of people. It will be an economic strain for me to get to Saratoga in August, but I will be there. Fun, yes, going out to dinner with friends, but it’s work and horse racing when I’m there. But that’s why God made September; it’s for paying the bills.

    Difference is if racing were canceled in Saratoga, I’m on my way up to Schroon Lake, or further south on the Jersey Shore in Monmouth’s case.

    Too many middle class people in this country are in far worse shape than we are. I’ll count my blessings, turn the page when a race day gets canceled. turn on the TV, read a book, or put the top down and go for a drive, turning the radio up to 11.

  17. Mr. Pricci: You write above that it was common sense for Monmouth management to delay the racing for hours to be run in the evening; such a decision by management gave no consideration to how profits would be affected, which to me translates that management has no thought about operating profitably – what, we worry? We got the state funding us!

    If I were a member of the New Jersey legislature, I would raise my voice to cut off all funding for horse racing at Monmouth Park. Absolutely mind-boggling how subsidy from the state, which keeps the track operating, is taken for granted and dispersed.

  18. The real problem as I understand was Monmouth’s hands were tied by their contract with NBC:

    The Haskell was a week earlier this year due to the PGA Tour schedule changes that have the FedEx St. Jude Classic this weekend, a weekend that previously had an event on CBS. That was done because the PGA wanted to have their playoffs conclude with the season ending Tour Championship the weekend of the Travers (why that is on FOX this year) due to wanting to avoid such playoffs being opposite football. Even with TIGER winning the Tour Championship a year ago, the ratings for that last September were in the toilet with only the die-hards watching opposite football (and in some cases as I understood it, seeing their local NBC station pre-empting the third round for college football and also doing that with the prior event at Arnomik two weeks earlier), leading to the move this year as part of a series of changes. Had the Haskell been postponed, it would have been to this coming SUNDAY to avoid both being on the same day as the Jim Dandy at Saratoga (so jockeys didn’t have to choose between the two) and IMO to also avoid any possible wrath (even if only privately) from the Hambletonian Society as the Hambletonian Oaks eliminations are this Saturday night at The Meadowlands (something I would try to avoid knowing how important the Hambletonian is to New Jersey). You’d been looking at a 7:45 PM post time for the Haskell on a Sunday evening if on NBC and hoping NBC’s coverage of the FedEx St. Jude Classic didn’t spill over into prime time due to either a lengthy weather delay or a long playoff. THAT was the problem here.

  19. Great background on the date change Walt. Clearly there were a number of factors involved in the decision including, from a racing perspective, Saturday is preferable to Sunday and making the Haskell five weeks from the Travers makes it more appealing for trainers from a timing perspective and also avoids competition from Saratoga’s Curlin and Jim Dandy on the original four-week schedule. At minimum a trainer could enter the Haskell, measure the competition–especially considering the Haskell is a million-dollar Grade 1. But always willing to learn, thank you!

  20. Wendell, I don’t understand why racetracks don’t hire you to consult since you always seem to be worried about their profitability.

    You believe that what amounts to pool manipulation vis a vis computer access awarded to high volume bettors is no different than the late “smart money” of yesteryear but it is whatever dole keeps them afloat? Have you considered that some tracks wouldn’t be in the business at all except for these subsidies?

    And you really that horseplayers really care whether or not the tracks they bet on makes a profit? And isn’t dole just another form of gambling, and would there even be casinos/racinos if racetracks didn’t exist to grandfather their creation in the first place?

  21. Mr. Pricci: Right, horseplayers do not care whether a racetrack is profitable. And yes, it is quite obvious that numerous racetracks would not be in business today without casino dole. And, without extraneous income (cash from non-racing operations, Alice), think casino dole, the industry would not be offering six/seven figure purses that draw the so-called elite blue bloods and trainers.

    The industry in now dependent on casino dole to provide the purses that go to a select few trainers; the industry is now sitting on quicksand that will collapse the industry if casino dole were to be withdrawn. Do you think or believe that NYRA tracks, Churchill tracks, or Stronach tracks could offer the six/seven figure purses without being subsidized by outside income (casino dole, sponsors, or instant racing machines)?

    I guess the real question is: Why do racetracks receive the casino dole? Why aren’t the casinos funding mom/pop shops on street corners across this country? We know though, don’t we? Politicians across this country, afraid of their job, wouldn’t support gambling unless it went to an EXISTING GAMBLING FACILITY which, of course, were racetracks. Casinos would exist, and be far more profitable, if racetracks never existed.

    Your writing that have I consider that racetracks would not be in business without subsidies has me wondering if you really understand that a business in this country must operate profitably to stay in business without outside financial assistance.

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