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The Conscience of Thoroughbred Racing


The comment below appears word for word beneath a recent story on a popular racing site about a veterinarian’s owning a racehorse. The message is the tip of an iceberg that racing leaders should observe, one that is not atypical by any means.

Wrote Gus Stewart [concisely edited for context]: “Again, with this type of situation continuing in racing, how could anyone take owing a racehorse seriously?

“If you keep having private vets unchecked doing biz as usual, you have no chance–example, a vet having an interest in a horse–his [horse] gets dose of A-plus type of vet help; you get C-minus.

“Then, if he wants to keep his horse on C-type treatment for a few months, then form is off, but today’s race [horse] gets the A-plus stuff, wonder why the racing form is less and less important to gamblers?

“It’s just so ridiculous and, 40 years a fan, it’s gotten so a backyard trailer-park type [business]. Oh, of course, 10 percent Breeders’ Cup and Triple Crown still has appeal, but the rest has become so sad.”

The sad part is that this reaction syncs-up with an overwhelming majority of fans who truly love the game and have been around it most of their adult lives:

It’s my oft-quoted George C. Scott line as “Patton,” the great general surveyed the battlefield on the morning after combat, “God help me I do love it so.”

Sadly, Mr. Stewart’s message, tone and pitch-perfect in our view, rings true in the hearts and minds of horseplayers everywhere. There was no rancor, no angry diatribe, only a reflection upon what one player thinks about what is.

If there is no concern that the next high-profile catastrophic injury–a question of when, not if–the notion that the game will survive because it always has is myopic and naive. Despite what we think, things change.

And if I’m wrong, and the industry is actively concerned–it certainly acts like it has given some forward progress in the last year or two–doesn’t it need to do much more to win back the public’s confidence?

Racing charges a steep price for its product and the high end of the sport has never been healthier, more successful. Isn’t it time to invest in the public it has–and the public it hopes to attract, before the current generation passes?

Hasn’t the industry proven–e.g., this one recent incident where a veterinary stakeholder was engaged in “hidden ownership” in some form–that it is incapable and/or unwilling to police itself satisfactorily?

Hidden ownership doesn’t usually involve inside stakeholders, although there was an embarrassing, similar example at Santa Anita this year that sent the wrong message. At least that situation was rectified with some dispatch after it was brought to light.

A very good thing at Santa Anita were the new safety protocols that were instituted following the horrific winter meet; from track surfaces, to new rules that retard the abuse of legal medications, to race-riding practices, to additional pre-race and workout inspections, all to the track’s credit.

But no other racing jurisdiction saw fit to be as stringent. Yes, improvements were made on some circuits, leading to the perception that, on balance, appear to be three-quarter measures that still falls short.

The only way to gain and regain the confidence of current and future horseplayers is for racing to form a cooperative by turning over testing and rules adjudication to an outside agency having a plus-one majority it needs to enforce compliance.

If not, the perception of cheating, from within or without, will never abate.

The phrase you hear most often in these turbulent times, especially with the recent passing of Representative Elijah Cummings, is, to paraphrase, “hundreds of years from now, when democracy gave itself over to autocracy, what did you do?”

The question is as apt for racing as it is for the current Divided States of America. The beginning of repairing a badly torn fabric and promote much needed healing and confidence can only start after the problem has been acknowledged by all.

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5 Responses

  1. Must each State have to fall into its own abyss before reform can finally occur in its jurisdiction?

    I wonder if the subset of trainers with starters at the Del Mar meet vs those at the current Santa Anita meet was substantially different.

    It would be interesting to know which trainers had the fatalities at the latter, and whether any of them also had fatalities at Santa Anita during the earlier “spike?”

  2. Agree I, all these points would be interesting to know but I’m trying to think in big picture terms but you’re right, probably a mini-collapse needed before the game goes forward as one. I look at the PPs and don’t have a lot of confidence. And I’m no doom and gloom-er– a dreamer perhaps, but that’s for another day.

  3. I like those last two paragraphs best.

    On the rest, this Industry is headed for a fall, with California leading the way, unless something significant changes, and soon.

  4. Den, it just seems inevitable, doesn’t it. Praying I’m wrong and for safe trips at SA, especially NOV 1-2 when the whole country gets to see it.

    1. You almost had it, JP, with one furlong to go. Mongolian Groom breakdown will not help matters. On a happier note, Bricks & Mortar is now tied with Seattle Slew as my all-time favorite horse. Talk about reliable. And, if he is not already, I believe “Jersey Joe” Bravo should be in Hall of Fame. This guy has literally done it all and at all tracks. Vino Rosso provided Larry Colmus another opportunity to roll his “r’s” in Classic. Repole & Co. jubilant. Vino is a hard knocker who got it done.

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