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The Conscience of Thoroughbred Racing


Everyone always wanted to be a handicapper. Now everyone wants to a meteorologist. I am sure this also rings true for weather presenters. However, no one really wants to spread weather-related fear and gloom on TV, unless you own the Weather Channel.

Following the lead of mainstream media, the owner of the Weather Channel, mogul Byron Allen, learned that just selling weather is unprofitable unless the information is laced with fear.

Just as the 24-hour news channels found it unprofitable to produce 24 hours of live programming each day, the Weather Channel supplements its live programming with shows that highlight the fear of weather related disasters.

It seems as if everyone has forgotten what summer is really like. When I was a kid, air conditioning was not prevalent and the temperature often approached 100 degrees. Someone’s dad would use a big wrench to open a fire hydrant so we could cool down.

Additionally, you do not even have to go back that far, because 20 years ago there never was a cancellation of racing or any other sport due to excessive heat.

On Saturday, horses at Monmouth Park raced injury free in 99-degree heat; so did horses at Arlington Park, where the temperature was 97 degrees.

Horses raced at Gulfstream Park in Florida that day without incident. The high temperature there was only 88 degrees. Old people do not go outside there when it gets hot because they cannot breathe. Please remind me why that’s “the place” to retire.

Cold temperatures exhibit larger attributable mortality rates (above 5%) compared to heat (less than 1%) in most countries.

Climate change is a big business and we all know business profits trump public benefit. Therefore, we cannot trust this business and the science it buys any more than we can trust the oil industry and the science it buys.

Our planet has at times been a ball of fire and other times a ball if ice. Human life has flourished at a time of a temperate climate on Earth. When that goes, so will we.

Man’s arrogance allows us to believe otherwise, but the sun controls all life and humans cannot do anything significant, save a nuclear holocaust, to advance or retard it.

If You Don’t See the Con, You Are the Mark

While all the horses were safe at Monmouth on Saturday, children were not. Protesters representing Horseracing’s Wrongs capitalized on the fear of heat related deaths and those protesters targeted children at Monmouth Park.

Jake Dueitt tweeted about it but got the wrong license plate. The following tweet misidentified the protesters as a group from PETA, when in fact they represented Horseracing’s Wrongs.  

“Hey PETA [Horseracing’s Wrongs] how bout you let me decide if I want my kid to support/watch horse racing instead of making him cry walking into the gates? Grown ass people telling a 6 year old kid he shouldn’t into horse racing b/c it kills the horses. He don’t know any better! #GTFOH.”

The protesters lacked civility and that is encouraged by Horseracing’s Wrongs leader, Patrick Battuello. Battuello himself refuses to learn about horseracing.

A couple of years ago I alerted John Pricci of a planned protest at Saratoga and Pricci sought out Battuello. He offered him a tour of the barns and a chance to see the backstretch life first hand. He said he would consider Pricci’s offer the following year, but did not follow through.

Battuello does not want to expose himself to the truth about horses that live at the racetrack. He will not see the good, presenting the bad with the worst possible spin.

Often cited as an expert, Battuello is not. He gathers information on horse deaths from states and compiles a master list but has never himself seen a horse die in person because he refuses to enter any racetrack.

His lists are not always correct nor complete but that does not stop him from spreading fear and gloom about horses by creating far-fetched fiction to go along with gory pictures.

Anyone who claims to advocate for horses and chooses to do so while he encourages abusing children has misguided priorities.


On Monday, the New York State Gaming Commission held an interesting meeting which at points was also entertaining. (That doesn’t happen very often).

The NYSGC unanimously approved a new jackpot Pick 6 wager for the New York Racing Association.

When contacted Monday, Patrick McKenna, NYRA’s Director of Communications and Public Affairs said, “We appreciate the action taken by the New York State Gaming Commission today and will offer this wager to horseplayers during the Saratoga meet.”

The wager, named the Empire 6, has a 20-cent minimum and is similar to the rainbow carryover jackpot at Gulfstream Park. It can take up to 10 days to have the item placed in the State’s register and the wager can debut when that stage is complete. The “Empire 6” will replace the current $2 Pick 6 wager. Its earliest implementation would be August 7.

The board seeks to eliminate show wagers on a race with a field with five or less entrants but determined the original wording was too broad. The board members narrowed the scope of the rule and will revisit it at next meeting at the end of August.

A rule allowing use of supervised Veterinary technicians was unanimously approved after narrowing the previous definition. Vet techs practicing under an existing Veterinarian’s license seems to be the loose definition for supervision.

The entertaining part of the meeting came with the announcement that NYSGC received only 17 replies from approximately 150 letters seeking comment on potential changes to Lasix rules.

At the June meeting, NYSGC staff had to review and categorize who was polled and provide a report thereon at the July meeting.

The survey was sent to each New York-based racetrack’s management, racing office and chief veterinarians, all recognized horsemen’s organizations, Standardbred and Thoroughbred breeder organizations, and the State’s leading Standardbred and Thoroughbred breeders and trainers.

Results of the 17 comments received were presented in such a confusing fashion that they needed review before it could be entered into the minutes of the July meeting; it never seems to be an easy, straightforward process.

For the most part, Thoroughbred people were in favor of reducing and eliminating Lasix and Standardbred people were against it. Some wording also needs changing so that if trainers experimented with racing horses without Lasix, it would not lose eligibility to use it again if the experiment fails.

I hope those polled without comment (over 130) realize they have given the NYSGC carte blanche to do what it chooses regarding Lasix. The board will probably act on the advice of state veterinarian, Dr. Scott Palmer. Those who did not reply probably will complain regardless.


The New York State Empire State Development Corporation extended the comment period for the Final Environmental Impact Statement from today, July 23, at 12:00 pm to Thursday August 1 at 5pm because ESD corrected and amended the FEIS. All comments must be submitted be to the ESD by email at or via regular mail to Empire State Development Corp. Attn: Mr. Michael Avolio, 633 Third Avenue, Floor 37, New York, NY 10017.

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26 Responses

  1. WTF, Berner…did somebody tell you that WordPress cannot handle more than ONE Post per day, or something? You afraid of wasting Bandwidth or something? You had TWO entertaining Posts, and one not so entertaining, but two of them are buried in the other. This is NOT good for SEO or the clarity of your Archives. Why don’t you make separate posts for separate topics? How can you expect your audience to stay ON TOPIC if you don’t? I’m writing a separate comment to talk about your main theme today.

  2. Bob-
    Maybe you missed constant droll on TWC about how many millions of people would be adversely effected by the heat wave. That drove public opinion and pressure from animal rights groups to cancel horseracing last Saturday.

  3. FEAR and LOATHING in the Media…
    I think you are onto something, Mark.
    Weather Channel boosts its traffic by selling fear.
    CNN boosts its traffic by selling Fear and Loathing.
    God help them if they did not have Trump as the center of their boring universe.
    They have lost all objectivity as journalists, and instead of reporting the news,
    they create it by fanning the flames of Fear and Loathing of Trump,
    in the same way as the Republicans fan the flames of Fear and Loathing of Socialism.
    They’re all propagandists, a Pox on Both Their Houses.
    But, sticking to horse racing:
    Where is your proof that the horses who ran in the early races were NOT harmed
    in any way by the heat?
    That is an assumption on your behalf – I have to assume, seeing as you offered no proof of your assertion.
    There was obviously SOME sort of Danger posed, otherwise they would NOT have canceled.
    This was NOT merely some Chicken Little “The Sky is Falling” Hysteria….
    I’ve seen posts from people who were THERE who said they found it exhausting to just walk around,
    and they could not figure out how the horses could actually race at full speed…
    Are you sure that those horses who came back after Race 3 were not suffering more than they should have been,
    which led to the cancellation?
    I don’t know – myself – but I’ve heard other people legitimately ASK that question.
    Personally, I believe they were CORRECT to NOT Cancel, and to seek a compromise of some sort.
    But I also think it is a fair question to ask to what extent concerns about the horse’s Health
    was part of what was compromised on.
    This tactic/strategy of pandering to people’s Fears and Loathing is surely not new,
    but it seems to be more and more a recurring theme every where I look.
    Thanks for putting your finger on what is really going on.

    1. Bob,
      None of the horses that raced Saturday showed any distress or pulled up and not finish, except for one that started poorly and never made contact with the field. Still, that one walked off and showed no ill effects from the heat.
      Mike Smith said he thought everything was fine after race 2 and said there was no reason for any delay…he did win the second at Mth.
      There’s always some danger, but horse have run for 90 seconds, more or less, many times over many years without suffering heatstroke.
      Chicken little lives.

    1. Teddy-
      Thanks. It was prompted by Pricci’s Sunday piece supporting the cancellations. People buy into the fear mongering without question. I question everything.

  4. You are certainly right on fear. That is what sells these days.

    Actually, while we often raced in real hot weather before, I do remember for example Ak-Sar-Ben in as I remember its final season of racing having a heat-related cancellation and there were times well before we started seeing heat-related cancellations 10-20 years ago there were days I felt should have been cancelled due to heat.

    There are also other factors in play:

    As had been noted by some horse people in various groups, there were some additives and vitamins that horses used to be given to help them cope with the heat in the hay, oats and water days that are no longer legal to be used because of steroids and other PEDs. Also, Lasix was still not given nearly as much as it is now, and that plays a big part in this as well.

    Also, I can’t remember for example other than the one heat-related cancellation in 2006 or the one this year Saratoga being as hot as it was this past weekend. I do know if we had still been at Belmont as we used to prior to 2010, we would have seen the final four days canceled due to heat as well as possibly last Wednesday due to the excessive rain we had that day, and there have been other times there has been racing at Saratoga on that weekend which would have resulted if they were at Belmont in being canceled due to heat.

  5. Walt-
    The negative whirlpool of fear does move the needle these days. Lasix certainly compounds the hydration factor, but outside pressure on racing is the tail waging the dog. Racing needs to own the game and not cave in. However, the industry is too fractured with self interests to get the traction it needs from all corners.

    1. Mark:

      Outside pressure on racing, especially from those who refuse to take the time to understand the sport and instead want to address THEIR personal agenda is a big problem. People in the sport want to protect their fifedoms over doing what’s right because many still think it’s 1969 and not 2019, which is another problem as they refuse to in some cases to want to understand how are society has changed.

  6. I asked two questions on Sunday, got no answers. Is the game under intense scrutiny or not–and I’ll add two more now? What happens after the next high profile accident? Is anyone aware that city officials in Los Angeles are considering a ban of racing and simulcasting in the greater Los Angeles area?

    Oh, right, it’s those crazy Californians. I’d like to see what becomes of the game if one, giant domino falls.

    What would any genius who believes that cancelling was a bad idea do–I,too, do not support a 4-1/2 delay but understand a compromising position and solution when I see one–if they had to make the call? Would they be willing to gamble the reputation of their racetrack had something gone amiss? Would they be willing to risk their job, and those of everyone working at their racetrack?

    I’d like to discuss a real solution, ideas to handle a crisis such as this, not a semantic discussion of talking points. I wish handicapping were this easy.

  7. JP-
    Al a self-proclaimed news junkie, you advertise that you already buy into the fear. That is all the news outlets sell these days. One guy on an animal welfare committee speaks to animal welfare, no big surprise there. How do you make the leap to believe the city council has the same opinion? It has never stated the same and certainly has had the time to do so if so inclined. Not even PETA VP Kathy Guillermo, who has called for zero deaths, calls for zero racing long term.
    Yes, racing is under more scrutiny than before the deaths at Santa Anita, but not to the degree you think. It is all magnified the PETA principle. You’re deeply invested and afraid of losing, but most Americans do not care. They’re aware of the Kentucky Derby and that horses died at Santa Anita. However, they made a decision about racing, be it good or bad, after seeing the news last winter and have moved on. The next time a high-profile horse death occurs there will be outrage until the fear-mongering media moves on to another 24-hour news cycle.
    If you want to discuss a real solution look to the technology Dr. Sheila Lyons is promoting. Put the new CATscan machines into all racetracks. The overall quality of the horse population will improve because the number of sound horses will increase dramatically, thus significantly reducing the number of fatal breakdowns.

  8. Cancellations due to cold are universally accepted. It’s bad for lungs. Raising blood pressure is no better.

    1. Sue Babe-
      Cold weather deaths top heat related ones by 5-1. There was a time long ago when the only reason NYRA would cancel in the winter was if they couldn’t accommodate the fans. The policy is different now and there aren’t enough fans at Aqueduct anymore for that to matter. I don’t remember the exact date, but one day I drove to Aqueduct and the gate were locked. I was shocked, then turned around and drove home. I usually called NYRA’s cancellation “hotline” but that day it never crossed my mind. I never again forgot to check first.

  9. Racing at Death Valley Downs has been cancelled; temperature will reach 118 today.

    In heat such as was the case on Saturday, horses would much rather be free and racing, rather than being cooped up in their stalls. In modern days, seems the trend is, with thoroughbreds anyway, not to exert them pre-race (which is a mistake). Won’t go into the science, but will tell you that the heat causes increased blood flow pre-race, which is tantamount to exercise, allowing the horse to better metabolize oxygen during the race. Don’t have the time or inclincation to research this, but if their is some egg-head out there with the time, if I was a gambling man, would wager that most track records are set when the temperature is high.

    The introduction of Lasix, which dehydrates an animal, is a serious cause for concern in the heat, but in my mind is cause for concern period. It is an abomination, and is the first thing that should take place if the sport is to continue. These people cancel racing supposedly because they care for these animals, but all the while allowing them to be filled with drugs to unnaturally enhance their performance. It just ain’t right.

  10. Teddy-
    Absolutely correct. I remember when Allen Jerkens sent a filly out for a 2-mile gallop before a race, then brought her to the paddock with 3 blankets. She won a minor stakes on turf that day. The Chief was the best!
    Lasix needs to go and so do the rest of the drugs. Trainers need to use knowledge instead of needles.

  11. Perhaps if weanlings and yearlings were not hot-housed pre-sale, they would be as tough as you say, Teddy.

    So if the ratio cold-hot death ratio is 5-1, then that one death is acceptable? As a news junkie. I am interested in all news in the interests of being informed, not buying into fear. I like puppy stories as much as the next guy, Marko.

    BTW: Another reason for winter cancellations is unsafe track conditions; the dreaded freeze/thaw cycle.

    Agreed that advanced technologies should be used to save equine lives.

    One last thing: the game for too long has ignored public perception and it is perception among the masses that will bring down the game. Acknowledging reality, that a perilous condition exists, is not fear mongering. it’s a pathway to truth and, ultimately, survival. I have nothing to prove and always will err on the side of caution.

    I’m uncomfortable rolling the dice with other people’s lives, which I suppose means that I’m not the macho American male stereotype I’m supposed to be. Damn right I’m afraid–afraid not to speak out.

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