Whether racing’s stakeholders know it or not, all who are tethered to the Thoroughbred in any capacity owe The Stronach Group a debt of gratitude.
In the final analysis, the organization, knowing that it would shake up an entire industry and incur the wrath of status quo types, stepped up and did the right thing by the horse.
In doing so, it took a significant step in trying to secure the sport’s future.
TSG’s actions mean the sport no longer needs to apologize to the people who don’t get it about Thoroughbred racing, especially animal rights activists whose agenda extends far beyond the welfare of animals.
With Santa Anita’s prestigious winter meet 10 days hence, horsemen—and unknowing legislators who would put an end to California racing–will be faced with protocols that have drawn, and will continue to draw, the ire of industry critics and horseplayers alike.
Those who put on the show have the right to protect themselves the best they know how to do and hopefully what’s best for the industry by respecting its past, dealing with the present and being mindful of its future.
Change does not come easy and criticism comes from everywhere, from within and without. But all stakeholders need to acknowledge one fact and one fact only: Participation is a privilege, not a right.
When changes were made in California, TSG, a favorite target of curmudgeonly dissidents, roundly engaged in a tack popular in political circles when facts become an inconvenient truth; whataboutism. What about TSG’s other tracks?
Well, the Maryland Racing Commission approved a number of house rules Oct. 24 geared toward racehorse health and safety, as well as accountability of participants, signing off on new proposed regulations related to those concerns.
It was hoped the new rules would have gone into effect DEC 1. It didn’t happen. Then perhaps JAN 1. As of now, that won’t happen. FEB 1? Who knows? And why? If you guessed that horsemen would object, you won your bet, paying $2.40 – out – out.
Taking their argument to social media, some said that moving Lasix out from three hours pre-race to four, and restrictions on non-steroidal anti-inflammatories from 24 hours to 48, “will have horses not running to true ability and horses bleeding and easing,” said one concerned horsemen.
“This will play right into our critics’ hand and compound the problem,” he continued. Said another, a veterinarian and trainer, “moving Lasix from 3 hours before racing to 4 is NOT good if one wants to protect a horse from Exercise Induced Pulmonary Hemorrhage, EIPH.”
I’d posit that it wouldn’t be wise to invite trainer Jerry Robb and Dr. Jim Casey to the same party as Bob Baffert and Todd Pletcher, who stated publicly at the recently concluded Arizona University Racing Symposium they now support a race-day Lasix ban.
Said Baffert: “I’m sick of reading about it, get rid of it.” Pletcher pointed out that it’s also a public perception issue and that racing on drugs is a message the industry should no longer be sending.
In part, changes are slowly beginning to take place at Gulfstream Park with Sunday’s announcement that alterations will be made to the purse structure and race status of both Pegasus events in late January.
Purses of the Pegasus World Cup Invitational and Pegasus Turf will be reduced to $3 million and $1 million, respectively. The races will now be strictly invitationals meant to attract Grade 1 and Grade 2 horses, according to new Gulfstream Park Director of Racing Mike Lakow, the goal being G1 status for both races.
Coupled with the purse reduction is the elimination of the substantial entry fees, but of greater significance is that both races will be run Lasix free and that 2% of the purse will go toward aftercare programs.
Purse reduction minus entry fees no longer makes a must-finish fourth a break-even proposition for Pegasus runners. Yes, net win is reduced for top finishers, but high six-figure risk has been eliminated.
Apparently, the notion that one-percenters would gamble horse-for-horse with their own money quickly lost its appeal.
The Pegasus purse reduction has caused Gary and Mary West to rethink their original plans, forsaking the long-term Pegasus goal, instead running for the big, blood money available in the new Saudi race with the obscene purse.
Never mind that Maximum Security is 4-for-4 at Gulfstream, the track that launched his successful career, or that the owners could give something back to American racing fans or take advantage of better spacing into the Dubai World Cup with eight-figure purse.
Could they be thinking about ducking, should Omaha Beach come back with a monstrous performance in Santa Anita’s opening-day Malibu?
But these are asides to a much bigger picture; racing’s future. The sport must change, in fact, it is changing, thanks to the tough protocols initiated post-Santa Anita’s tragic winter meet.
You can disagree with their methods, approach, timing, whatever. All are entitled. But to not recognize what appears to be the best of intentions for the industry’s present and future would be symptomatic for what America has become, a win-at-all-costs society with no regard for anyone or anything else.