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The Conscience of Thoroughbred Racing


Racing fans picnic at Saratoga Race Course
photo by

SARATOGA SPRINGS–Saratoga puts the lie to so much of what has been roiling racing this year. All you have to do is breathe in the atmosphere and look around at families having  a glorious day at the races, creating memories that will endure a lifetime and something that has been lost in recent hysteria becomes obvious: thoroughbred racing is not facing any existential threat, not now, not in the foreseeable future.

There are threats: the declining foal crop and related overly cautious training tactics and the expansion of competing gambling opportunities. But the tragedies in California are not going to bring the game down.

This is not an off-the-cuff prediction. It is an observation based on American history and behavior. Horse racing gives people pleasure and this almost always outweighs everything else.

Tobacco takes 480,000 lives a year, an estimated 10 percent from second-hand smoke, a slaughter of the innocents. But you can still buy smokes over the counter.

The toll from alcohol related deaths is approximately 88,000 annually. Well-meaning people tried outlawing alcohol. How did that work out?

Auto fatalities are in the range of 40,000 per year. We wouldn’t have to ban cars to end this carnage. All we would have to do is lower the speed limit to 20 miles per hour or stop building cars that can break speed barriers. But we love driving and a lot of us love driving fast so this is not even a consideration.

The nation is in the process of legalizing recreational marijuana, which has no societal value beyond lots of people enjoy it.

Human athletes die in boxing–two succumbed in the past couple of weeks. Auto racing deaths aren’t quite commonplace thanks to safety measures that have been devised. But they still are not rare.

Most significantly, there is now indisputable evidence that football destroys brains and accelerates death. Yet there is zero chance the game will be legislated out of existence. Why? Americans love it. They count down to the start of a new season.

Horses have suffered tragic mishaps in every racing state for more than a century. Some years are worse than others. Kentucky, unofficial home of thoroughbred racing, has the worst fatality rates but no one is talking about ending the sport. For all its problems, racing endures everywhere and the only jurisdiction that is talking about ending it is California, a case unto itself. More about that in a bit.

Each horse death is heart-breaking to those who own them, care for them and, yes, bet  on them. Everything that can be done should be done to make each death the last one, although realistically we know that cannot be the case.

As mentioned, the certainty of racing’s future might not apply to California, where loony activists, incompetent overseers  and their political man-servants are capable of all manner of mayhem.

There are 60,000 homeless living people in the streets of the Golden State’s two largest cities, Los Angeles and San Francisco. These unfortunate souls have daily bowel movements in the streets, salted with discarded heroin syringes.

This has created a population explosion of vermin and with it threats of plagues  we thought had been eradicated in the dark ages. This peril has begun to intrude into the lives of every citizen.

Goodness knows how many homeless have been found dead on sidewalks in the last six months. One thing is certain. It exceeds 30, the number of equine deaths that have mobilized Gov. Newsom, Sen. Feinstein and the Los Angeles Times to call for at least the temporary curtailment of racing. There are few greater examples of manipulative distraction and political grandstanding.

New York had an uncommon spate of race track fatalities   2011-12. But not even Gov. Andrew Cuomo, no friend of racing, made a serious stand calling for an end of the sport. Responsible safeguards were created and the issues faded from public scrutiny.

So could we stop the doomsday predictions of an existential threat to racing. The verbiage might make you look smart but the reasoning produces a different conclusion.

To borrow a phrase from a neighboring state’s advertising slogan, what happens in California racing stays in California racing.

BC sells its soul

I thought racing had hit bottom when it allowed a fast food company to attach its name to the Kentucky Derby, the world’s most prestigious race.

But the barrier has been lowered with the Breeders’ Cup accepting Big Ass Fans as a corporate partner and name sponsor of the Dirt Mile. I can’t wait to see how NBC handles this.

This is not a criticism of Big Ass Fans main products, cooling devices, just as I have no issue with any of the Yum Brands menu items. It’s the corporate branding of Big Ass Fans, which is clearly intended to attract attention, apparently successfully so.

But there is an unavoidable secondary interpretation, which those outside racing often attach to some people who enjoy racing, a very unflattering one. What’s next, the Breeders’ Cup Distaff presented by Big Boob Bras?

To put it in another context, if an owner tried to name a horse Big Ass Fan, The Jockey Club would dispatch a rejection notice by return mail. If the name is not acceptable for a horse, it surely doesn’t belong attached to one of racing’s most important events.

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⚠ Before you comment

Our staff likes nothing better than to engage with the HRI Faithful and provide a forum for interaction on horseracing and sports. In that spirit, please be kind and reasonable; keep the language clean, and the tone civil. Comments from those who cannot comply will be deleted. Thank you.

17 Responses

  1. Tom-
    You’re absolutely right. People in racing are too close to see reality and that reality is that people outside of racing aren’t paying any attention to this game. They heard the news over the winter, formed an opinion, and moved on. Racing people can’t move on. They’ve circled the wagons to fight the perceived opposition, they’ve buried their heads in the sand and continue to sweep problems under the rug. Their perception is highly skewed. Racing needs to be proactive and fix things from within because they need fixing and not just be reactive because of outside pressure.

  2. Play it again Sam.
    Mr. Jicha and Mr. Berner: You both see only what you want to see, ignoring the Elephant in the room – the matter of each racing organization operating profitably without financial assistance outside of racing operations.

    Sure, Thoroughbred racing will be around for a longtime if a) states continue to give money to their racetracks to keep them operating, b) sponsors fund stake purses so the race carries their name, c) people continue to enjoy spending hours in front of an Instant Racing Machine putting money into the machine betting on races of the past which fund purses, and d) casino dole, the mother lode that funds daily the six/seven figure purses; without these sources of cash, not earned from the business of racing, there would no longer be purses exceeding $50,000 and claiming races would no longer have purses twice the value of the horses entered.

    Thoroughbred racing’s financial structure is a fraud and how the ‘dole’ is dispersed in the form of purses is skewered toward a select number of races and trainers.

    Am reminded of the little girls who run a lemonade stand in their yard. Every weekend all summer they sell cups of lemonade to people going by, and each evening their mom asks them how they did. “Great Mom, we each made $8 which we put in our piggy bank”. Meanwhile Dad is at the table looking at grocery receipts totally $30 for lemons, sugar, and bottled water. Now, isn’t this how most racetrack purses are funded?

    1. I agree that purses are out of line because of casino doles and if they ever stop, which they probably will some day, there will be something similar to the housing bust. But this will not put the game out of business. It will go back to something like it used to be.
      But to engage in the logic you are partial, too, a 2-1 winner will still pay $6. Isn’t that all you care about?

  3. Wendell-
    Yes, beat the same dead horse you always do. PETA and Horseracing’s Wrongs are not protesting casinos.

  4. Biblically speaking as a lewd fellow of the baser sort, you make some big ass points in your article, and hoping that racing cleans up its big ass problems and once again becomes the Sport of Kings.

  5. Sponsors are important to the game but there should be standards. Marijuana is on the way to being legal everywhere. Will racing have stakes sponsored by Maui Wowee and Big Bamboo?

  6. I replied to Mr. Berners’s comment at 9:10 this morning, but either Mr. Pricci deleted it or I failed to hit the right button. Want to believe that I, being sober (imagine that, Alice), failed to properly send my moronic reply.

    Well, lets try again. Mr. Jicha, for us clowns that think we are going to win big bucks betting on the nags, we are not very bright. But, at my age, women and golf are no longer a viable option so betting on the plodders is all that is left. Am thankful that gambling is still an option and that I have a few bucks to bet on the nags most every day. This country endorses the capitalistic system where anyone can go into business seeking a profit. I am galled by the FACT that the Thoroughbred racing industry racetracks receive ‘cash’ for purses from outside sources: casinos, state donations, sponsors, et cetera; and they treat such as if they are entitled! And distribute the purse unfairly favoring a select few. Purses of six/seven figures are ridiculous and such size of purse does nothing to increase ‘fan’ interest in pursuing
    further gambling on the horses. Take today’s feature race, the Saratoga Oaks, where the purse is $750,000; where did the money for the purse come from? Casino dole, of course. Look at the race: six entrants, three from England I think. How does one pick a winner from these blue bloods? Is this race going to create new bettors? Where are you turf writers in exposing the mismanagement of how the ‘outside’ income that is keeping Thoroughbred racetracks in business is utilized?

    Yes, Mr. Berner, you are right! PETA and others are not commenting on casino dole; they are addressing other issues they consider paramount to the Thoroughbred industry. But, the Elephant in the room is informing all what is going to bring down the Thoroughbred industry: when the spigot is turned off (guess who is turning the spigot, Alice).

    BTW, I’m almost 82 yrs young and the odds have gone up that I will survive the Thoroughbred industry. And, I gave away my fishing pole years ago. I guess it’s Foster’s and Netflix.

  7. You are innocent (in a sense). In any event, you were not deleted; my bad, not your bad.

    Alice, bring him another Foster’s, please. Maybe he’ll fall asleep…

  8. Mr. Pricci, you , along with Mr. Jicha, are a couple of horse players like me who have been around the block many times. After all these years of rarely ever agreeing on any subject, I look forward every morning to find something that I can disagree with from yesterday’s comments by either of you. But, I want you both to understand that I do not simply comment just to rile you guys up; my comments are based on fact, which you both and many readers do not want to accept as truth (why am I thinking of Mr. Ed, Alice?).

    Well anyway, Casa Creed just won (thanks for the loan, Alice).

  9. Your comparison to other sports is pointless and doesn’t prove or help defend anything. Horse racing has one thing that is completely different from your examples. The horses aren’t willing participants….


    1. Neither are cows, pigs or sheep.
      We don’t eat horses.
      Horses have no role in deciding the fate of racing. As I said, the people who do tolerate unfortunate events if it gives them entertainment pleasure.

  10. WMC, your comments relative to the game, or gambling, or whatever, is based on opinion, not always on fact.

    Just so we understand each other, and the purpose of this entire HRI experience.

  11. John, Tom and Mark: I am sick and tired of reading the stupidity and nonsense from this non-human who refers to himself as Wendell Corrow. I don’t think he can possibly exist. Two fine gentlemen named John and Paul wrote a beautiful song about him over a half-century ago, to wit, “The Fool on the Hill”. Their words were prophetic insofar as they described Corrow, the incorrigible. He is the man that nobody wants to know and his eyes are constantly spinning.
    I was physically present at Saratoga both Friday and Saturday. Tom’s words herein perfectly described the wondrous scene of the past two days. The stark difference between a day at a downstate track and a day at Saratoga is palpable. It is something out of a Twilight Zone episode-there were many of them-in which you can’t separate fantasy from reality. Of course, there are problems at the Spa, the prices at concessions are too high, the internet access is pathetic ( Hello, NYRA, you want us to bet on our apps, but if there is insufficent access, we are effectively shut out) and there is hardly any room to walk. But, what entertainment business wouldn’t give its proverbial right arm for such problems?

    However, Corrow, how about coming to Saratoga before complaining about NYRA’s business practices. Your foolish notions about what qualifies as acceptable revenue for NYRA, is so stupid as to show your utter lack of business acumen. How can you seriously criticize any entertainment business from accepting sponsorship dollars? The major Sports leagues would be put out of business if your insane model was foisted upon them. You decry the purse structure but have you ever invested one thin dime in a thoroughbred racehorse? Have you spent 24-7 working in a barn on the backstretch? Your notions of who should earn money from the racing business are so asinine as to sound like they came from a Trotsky treatise on Economics. Moreover, please stop your inane droning about casino “dole”. The NYRA , as successor in interest to the Greater NY Association, OWNED all of the land upon which the following racetracks, and ancillary facilities, were built-Aqueduct, Jamaica, Belmont, and Saratoga. IN exchange for the DEEDS to such REAL PROPERTY, the State of New York, gave NYRA the right to operate the racing franchise for twenty -five years AND, the right to participate in the proceeds of the casino built in the “old” Grandstand at the Big A. Please do us a favor, and in the future, refer to such payments as RENT OR ROYALTIES, but not as “dole”. After all, you receive “dole” from the rest of us-its called Social Security-and you didn’t earn it, Congress can take it away from you today, and there is nothing that you can do about it.

  12. Just read your comment, Framarco. I declined being notified when someone comments as I am tired to of deleting the notifications.

    As written several times already here at HRI, NYRA is using revenue from extraneous sources (casino money supposedly from the sale of the land and sponsors) to fund six/seven figure purses); NYRA would not be able to offer such extravagant purses from income derived from takeout and signal fees from racing operations. I would like to see a statement from a certified public accounting firm reporting that NYRA is operating profitably from income derived from RACING OPERATIONS.

    Can you name another business in this country, other than racing associations, that stay in business as a result of cash being given to them that has no relation to the product or service produced by the business other than funds from Federal and State programs.

    Mr. Pricci: Why do you have that ‘Before you comment’ notice above?

  13. Enjoyed wmcorrow lemonade stand metaphor. If dad tallying up cost of ingredients is a deal breaker just wait ’til they get to college. Newsflash to dad: Here comes the pain. Interesting debate about purses. Always liked, pre-casinos, the high purses for NY Breds at NY tracks. Winter racing at Aqueduct would be gone without slots. Miss Artichokes Pizza at Resorts World, wicked good pizza. Have to go to Delta Terminal at LaGuardia now.

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