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The Conscience of Thoroughbred Racing


HALLANDALE BEACH, FL, October 19, 2021 – Twitter is, well, twitter, and as such hate and controversy will continue to sell, just like old-school tabloids and televised news programs did and continue to do: If it bleeds it leads.

So, what does that have to do with horse racing?

It’s astonishing to me how so many horseracing tweeps and sports fans have stated they will avoid betting, or even watching, this year’s Breeders’ Cup because Bob Baffert is being allowed to participate.

Isn’t this a lot like saying that since Fox News exists, I’m going to avoid all televised news programming?

As many HRI Faithful know, I’ve been a harsh critic of the Hall of Fame trainer after seven equines died of “sudden death” over a 16-month period from 2012-13. In my view “environmental contamination” does not provide exculpatory relief.

While people like Baffert and the former guy make use of—some might say misuse—the justice system to unfair advantage and delay justice because they can, due process exists to ensure American jurisprudence; a person is innocent until proven guilty.

Litigation allows those who can afford to pay for it to live above the law, at least temporarily. It may take a long time–too long, but the truth will out and justice often will be served.

Last week, Breeders’ Cup issued a public statement, which read in part:

“Based on the totality of the circumstances, Breeders’ Cup has decided to require all horses trained by Mr. Baffert to undergo enhanced out-of-competition, pre- and post-race testing, and other security protocols, at his own expense, in order to participate in the 2021 Breeders’ Cup World Championships at Del Mar…

“On top of our industry-leading protocols and standards, additional testing and security requirements for any horse under Mr. Baffert’s care will be administered at his expense under a signed agreement to provide a more targeted layer of accountability.

“These additional measures include increased randomized out-of-competition testing for all prohibited and restricted substances, additional tests administered the week of the World Championships, increased veterinarian and security checks, and in-person 24-hour security surveillance ahead of the horse or horses’ respective events.”

This Breeders’ Cup statement satisfies my personal sense of fairness in this instance. Like it or not, the “Medina Spirit” process is ongoing, and it would be unfair for anyone to be penalized until a final determination has been made.

The kind of pre-race scrutiny Breeders’ Cup is insisting on is unprecedented. The fact that Baffert has agreed to pay before he can play is good on the Breeders’ Cup. They are allowing his horses to participate after instituting unique pre-race testing protocols.

Appropriately, Breeders’ Cup should not have to pay for granting privilege to a horseman whose potential entrants have been barred from competing in events such as the 2022 Kentucky Derby, a race and racetrack whose reputation took a significant hit via the actions of an alleged rules violator.

Racing fans and bettors can do as they wish, of course. But by virtue of the horsemanship exhibited by Baffert and his staff, the horses have earned a right to compete because of demonstrated performance and accomplishment. At issue, obviously, is the methodology.

Horses are innocent of wrongdoing. Horseplayers are invited to root for or against the Baffert runners, to bet on or against them. Because America, at least for the time being, anyway, is still a democratic republic.

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13 Responses

  1. JP,
    While I believe Baffert’s presence is not in the best interests of most bettors, I find the current racing regulator focus on him alone is of little benefit to them either. Until all trainers are actually scrutinized to the same degree and sanctioned (along with their owners) identically according to uniform standards in all jurisdictions, there can be no expectation of increased integrity.

    And even if cheating among trainers and owners could be minimized, what good would that be without competent, consistent, justifiable calls by stewards accountable to bettors and horsemen; guided by uniform rules and review for adjusting finish order, ensuring rider safety, avoiding equine abuse, and preventing chicanery.

    Frankly, I’m less distressed by the presence of picograms with doubtful impact than I am with questionable disqualifications and non-calls, e.g. the Pennsylvania Derby without adequate video review.

    BTW how is it that Special Reserve can run so well for Maker without Lasix despite the trainer’s assertion that the horse is a “significant bleeder?”

    1. I,

      On point A, agreed. On point B, agreed. On point C, heartedly agree.

      As to Special Reserve, I have absolutely no idea what Maker was doing or thinking when he made that statement.

    2. I-Man, Strongly in agreement with all your views above. My question is whether the majority remaining in the sport are indeed gentlemen or is the majority now made up of grifters? The small scale swindling of old is no longer so small Oscar. Even the Grade 1 level events are now suspect. Shifty Sheik taking on Slew of Gold, and they’ve been running downhill ever since.

      There is just never enough money or fame to be had it would seem. Sad for the gentlemen of old is all.

      “Trust Diminished” running anywhere today Indy?

  2. NOTE: Sorry J, but can’t allow accusations based on rumor or personal prejudice to stand. You are free to object to anything reasonably, and are welcome to try again at any time…

  3. John,
    “Isn’t this a lot like saying that since Fox News exists, I’m going to avoid all televised news programming?“
    Avoiding commonalities in people you respect you enjoy even though their politics get in the way.

    1. Sort of, Mark, but not quite the same analogy in my view. But that’s horseracing, isn’t it…

    1. Well, judging by the amount of special protocols put in place, don’t think that will be an issue.

      Further, Breeders’ Cup does keep a sharp eye on horsemen in advance of the event with some trainers getting closer scrutiny…

    2. Many people in the closed-off, insular world of horse racing refuse to acknowledge the plummeting popularity of the sport. When the biggest name in the sport, Baffert, is tainted, then the entire industry is tainted. How many new fans can the sport possibly gain when the Baffert name is front and center ?

      But of course, nobody in racing cares about the sport’s popularity while the casino subsidies keep flowing and low-cost immigrant labor is available. The financial house of cards continues to stand in the year 2021, so the Baffert situation gets shrugged off.

  4. Dan, Don’t believe anyone is shrugging off the Baffert situation. While he is the sport’s most visible image, I learned a long time ago that no one is bigger than the game.

    Casino dole is nothing new, and while racing’s popularity has waned, 2021 betting handle is easily surpassing that of pre-Covid 2019, so there is that.

    As far as overall industry “business” is concerned, it’s up to the stakeholders to figure it out. My interest is in handicapping, wagering, the sport’s history and traditions, and keeping the participants honest–as best I can.

  5. I can’t stand Baffert, but I’ll be damned if I let him take the Breeders Cup away from me. Avoiding the BC as protest is beyond silly and you give that bum too much power over you when you do something that silly.

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