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The Conscience of Thoroughbred Racing


For all its faults involving integrity, security, transparency and a badly outdated business model, Thoroughbred racing and its horsemen are conducting themselves a lot more wisely than federal and many state governments franchised to protect its citizens.

While some tracks have set a schedule to reopen spectator-less when it’s safe to do so, the National Horsemen’s Benevolent and Protective Association, an organization with which we are often at odds, has released comprehensive guidelines for living and doing business in the COVID era.

Back in the real world, the Governor of my state of Florida, gave permission to reopen certain beaches on Saturday, some of the same beaches that remained open so college students from all over country could enjoy a little fun in the sun before introducing the virus upon their return home.

Jammed together awaiting the starting gun at 5 pm, most not social distancing nor wearing masks, many carried signs protesting shelter-in-place restrictions because they think enough is enough; it’s time to have fun. Who cares about the lives of what the majority of the country wants?

Thus far, three-quarters of a million people have tested positive for the virus and over 30,000 have died, numbers that grow with every news cycle. But these “protesters” believed the restrictions did not apply to them, that government was overstepping, trampling their constitutional rights.

A former racing colleague in upstate New York, Nick Kling, recently sent me a sagacious observation from the great scientific mind of Isaac Asimov who, in 1980, wrote on the subject of wrong-headed thinking. To wit:

“Anti-intellectualism has been a constant thread winding its way through our political and cultural life, nurtured by the false notion that democracy means that ‘my ignorance is just as good as your knowledge’.”

I would argue not when it comes to matters of life and death.

Anyone who took advantage of the permission granted by a cowering Governor without benefit of testing or protective covering put the lives of first responders, service personnel–and even their own families–at risk.

It’s a happy coincidence when an organization that represents people who dedicate their lives in service to animals in need of feeding and care, instructs the community in thoughtful, progressive fashion.

Racetrackers live a bigger picture, that caring for other living creatures is more than a living, it’s noble work.

On balance, backstretch workers are maintaining safety protocols as proscribed by the scientists. But those who might have been a little cavalier about it–especially with respect to face coverings–will no longer be allowed to do so. The following are most of the NHBPA guidelines, edited for context:

*Designate, set aside and secure a safe area for quarantine, if needed.            

*Incoming  van drivers must wear a suitable face covering over nose and mouth and must wear gloves when entering to pick up or drop off horses.

*Must have minimal contact with any stable personnel.                                                

*All pony personnel must wear suitable covering when in contact with jockeys while mounted.

*Gate crew personnel must wear a suitable covering (a mask, scarf, or bandana) over their nose and mouth and wear gloves while loading horses in the starting gate and will have no physical contact with any other personnel unless in the best interest of safety.

*Adhere to suggested Cleaning and Hygiene Protocols

*Increase frequency of cleaning/disinfection of all high-risk surfaces (stable equipment, tack boxes, handles, elevator buttons, handrails, countertops, etc.) and all high-traffic areas.

*The working gate crew shall disinfect the starting gate every morning before training, during breaks, after training, and between every race.

*Establish designated personnel to disinfect the paddock and saddling area every morning before training, during breaks, after training, and between every race.

*Shipping companies’ van drivers should disinfect vans and trailers between each and every trip.

*Restricted Access Protocols: The racetrack, track apron, and paddock access will be limited to commissioned licensed trainers and essential personnel who have horses running that day.

*No owners, media, or fans will be allowed on the track in order to limit outside exposure. No guests, with no exceptions.

*No assembling of any personnel in any area, and all personnel should practice social distancing. • The walking ring must be closed to everyone other than licensed personnel who are required to accompany their horse to and from the saddling barn or racetrack.

*Jockeys will get on their horses as soon as possible and proceed directly to the racetrack for the post parade and warm-up.

*A security access log should be maintained by a member of the security team to register who accessed the apron on a specific day.

*Access to the Jockeys’ Room and Jockeys’ Room Restricted Protocols. The Jockeys’ Guild should be consulted for organizational established protocols.

*Only essential personnel licensed by the state and jockeys scheduled to ride in races will be allowed access to the jockeys’ room.

*All jockeys and essential personnel in the jockeys’ room (including valets and the clerk of the scales) will have their temperatures monitored daily. Anyone showing any signs of illness must be denied access to the premises.

*Lockers and workstations will be spaced a minimum of the required six feet apart.

*All jockeys will be required to wear riding gloves and prohibited from any physical contact between themselves and others.

*Jockeys are required to leave the jockeys’ room immediately following their last ride.

*All sauna and extraneous facilities must be closed. Showers may remain open but will be sanitized frequently throughout the day.

*Jockeys should be encouraged to limit travel, and a 14-day mandatory self-quarantine is in effect for all jockeys and personnel who have traveled internationally.

*Establish a staff directory of all contacts for key personnel that can be accessed with cell phone numbers and emails.

*Establish a list of all on-track and nearby off-track medical facilities.

*Essential personnel may include racing officials as designated by the state, safety staff (ambulance drivers, track maintenance crew,) outriders, pony crew, starting-gate operators, and specialized janitorial staff to sanitize the facility.

*Nonessential personnel are prohibited on the grounds.

*The stable cafeteria may remain open to serve essential personnel while following all state, local, and CDC guidelines and restrictions, including patrons carrying out their food.

*Establish a health check station(s) where temperatures, symptoms, and names can be logged before being permitted access to the stable area.

*There must be multiple health check stations at every accessible access gate/entry for the stable area.

*Establish a color-coded wristband system with a different color representing each day of the week. A colored band must be applied at the health check station and must be worn for the entirety of the day.

In addition to video conferencing out west, Chairman and CEO Belinda Stronach penned an open letter to the Los Angeles County Department of Public Health requesting a return to spectator-less racing at Santa Anita Park.

Stronach’s proposal emphasized that Santa Anita is self-contained and that management is willing to relocate jockeys, gate crew workers and racing officials to on-site housing—whatever it takes to avoid the potential loss of 750 backstretch jobs.

Santa Anita has hired an infectious disease doctor to speak with County medical professionals and are prepared to find workable solutions to any issue the authorities might have with reopening as soon as it is reasonably safe to do so.

It should be noted that while this dialogue continues, the LA Health Department extended the order that will keep beaches closed until May 15, the difference between forward-thinking action and feckless political expediency that not only can reverse any progress made but see the virus return with a vengeance.

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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.

24 Responses

  1. Ah, Nick Kling. A terrific handicapper, a knowledgeable contributor to HRI ten or so years ago, and a guy who appreciated my comments (harrumpt). Pleased to learn that he is still on the top side. Does he still collect scalps?

  2. WMC, I’ll ask because I’m curious about the scalps reference. You’ll find him on Twitter…

  3. Off topic as usual. Am in a good mood as I caught ‘the thing’ sleeping in my favorite chair; no fake move this time. A straight swat on the butt sent the worthless excuse for a cat at high speed down the hallway.

    Nice card at Fonner later today. Not one nag’s morning line listed below 5/2. Get with it folks. Racing for gamblers just a few hours away with good prices for those that know which end of the plodder ……..

    BTW, those who watch the races at Fonner today, please describe how they were any different than what you observed at the top-tier racetracks. Ya know, like what is the difference between using a BMW or a Toyota Corolla to go somewhere (psst! Corolla uses less gas!).

  4. JP,
    I could respond to every one of your political points. Then you could respond to me. And we could go back and forth all day until we got exhausted without either of us changing the other’s mind. I don’t want to get into that.

    What I want to do is point out there are realities beyond our own situations. You and I have not been hurt financially one bit by the lockdown. We still get our SS checks every month. In addition we just got $2,400 checks that, IMO, we shouldn’t have. The virus hasn’t cost us one penny or our monthly stipend.

    (I can hear people saying, “Well, why don’t you give it back?” My somewhat selfish answer is it wouldn’t change anything and the government has been sending checks to (some) people who don’t deserve them for eons.)”

    But I digress. My point is, our standard of living hasn’t been affected. Furthermore, the nature of what we do requires us to spend most of our time indoors in front of our computers and/or TV. So our daily routines haven’t been disturbed, either.

    This is not the case for a lot of people. They have lost a lot of income and they are unable to get out of the house, which is a big part of their daily routines. So we shouldn’t judge them harshly because they are willing to take the risk of getting back to their norm, while taking reasonable safeguards.

    I won’t try to excuse what happened at Jacksonville Beach this past weekend. But it is symptomatic of how frustrated people have become. Right or wrong, this is only going to get worse, as demonstrations all over the country this week showed.

    One final thing. Unfortunately, you live near the epicenter of coronavirus in Florida, so I can understand your attitude.

    But where I and many other Floridians are lucky enough to live, coronavirus cases are relatively rare. Some counties have none, or a relative handful. So it’s not as imperative to participate as scrupulously in the safeguards.

    Just wanted to give you another side of a sad story.

    Stay safe and healthy.

  5. Was that a “one eyed” cat running down Wendell’s hallway or simply “the thing” he swatted off his favorite chair? Great story Wendell. Thanks for the laugh as we could all use a few laughs of late. Suggest you invest in a squirt gun for the next engagement. Remember the old mini-squeegee gun of your youth?

    Be forewarned, the premise of “Marksman” Wendell, Faster’s in hand, on patrol against the beast however might just draw the rage of the PETA crowd.

  6. TJ, Without fighting or standing in anyone’s face, we all have options. I for one am reallocating my stimulus money to those you mention who are in greater need by contributing through my son’s employer, where he can have the contribution matched. As for Social Security, I agree that many of us are for now safe at second base in retirement, as we planned ahead for it. With the excessive redistribution off the additional monies now created out of thin air, trillions of dollars now added to our money supply, at one point will our SSI entitlements become insolvent. Certainly in more danger than ever before. Something to think about.

    Home of the free because of the brave. How about we all listen to what is being asked of us, so that the brave have a better chance at continuing to protect us?

    In closing, the reason that the coronavirus percentages are so much more inflated with minorities is that those are the people most often not able to be working from home. Thank you all who go to work each day for all of society. ‘

    So wish I could help, but age dictates staying at home is the best action I can take. Not even able to give blood because of the damned prostate meds. Last thought in my ramble, certainly no need for bearing arms by anyone in an expression of protest as we witnessed this past weekend.

    Peace to all. Stay safe.

  7. Mr. Jicha: So, what is the appropriate decision for state governors? To cancel all restrictions like social distancing to get people back to work, to be selective like opening the area you live in, or to keep all of their state on lockdown? Is it better to save lives than to allow people out of their domain who may contribute to a further delay in gaining control of Covid-19? Beats me! Tough decision, but, as the current polls indicate, most people want to go slow in eliminating restrictions on people movement.

    I’m sure that of the people who have succumbed to the virus many were Republicans. I wonder how their family tree will vote his fall.

    So, is the objective to save lives or to get people back to work and onto the beaches?

    McD: The water pistol. Great idea. I remember I hollowed out a book to hide a water pistol while in 7th/8th grade before I got expelled. A plastic bottle, squeezed, might just work.

  8. TJ, You don’t want to get into it you state, then get into it. No one should get to bring something up then say I won’t get into it, although it happens all the time everywhere.

    The larger point was that the NHBPA did something right and, in the interests of balance, wanted to acknowledge that. Responding to your points:

    Change of routine for me, no not really, that’s true because among my duties are populating the site without a partner who walked away. That’s life.

    But I do miss the freedom to go out to a restaurant, see a movie, music, see live racing at Gulfstream on Saturdays.

    Small sacrifices to be sure. But I have lost some advertising revenue, and a live opportunity to grow the site recently that was kiboshed by the pandemic. That’s life, part 2.

    But on balance I’m very fortunate and thankful. At the moment, we both are healthy.

    I’m healthy despite pre-existing issues because I practice good common sense and follow the guidelines proscribed by scientists smarter than me; mask and gloves when shopping for food or picking up meds. I shower when I get home; put clothes and shoes in the sunlight until the following week.

    Protesters who encourage people to act with no regard to the community at large, showing disdain for the “suckers” who follow the rules, are anathema to me, my family and friends. And to directly put health care workers unnecessarily in danger is not only unconscionable but is small-c criminal.

    I don’t understand anyone who writes an editorial about racing sending a bad message by running when the guidelines are stricter for racetracks to operate than they are for the public at large–never mind the responsibility of those tethered to the animals that have given them a life.

    The protests in Michigan were funded by several right-wing organizations, one supported by the DeVos family. You know it and I know it, but I don’t expect you to admit that this is a political stunt meant to re-elect and to pander to the interests of large corporations, just like the tax cuts were.

    Willful ignorance should not stand and is not a way forward. We’re the same age: You may be willing to sacrifice your life for the economy, as one GOP pol suggested, but I’m not.

    I feel for those Americans lined up in cars for miles at the food-banks. I also feel for the Americans who are too poor to afford a car in the first place.

    Saw a reference on Twitter this morning pointing out that Anne Frank lived in an attic for two years but we’re bored because we can’t shelter in place with Netflix, marijuana, and food delivery service.

    And BTW: It took until today to enact the DPA??!!

  9. WMC,
    The objective is both to save lives and get people back to work.

    They are not mutually exclusive. We are not a one-size-fits-all nation. Some areas, like the one where J.P. lives, are hot zones. They have to be even more careful than the norm.

    Other areas, including where I live and some sparsely populated states have few cases, so a blanket lockdown is overkill.

    Age is also a factor, maybe the leading one. All of us on this thread have an idea of how old we are. We are especially vulnerable so we have to take extra safeguards. Younger people merely have to exercise common sense.

    An extended lockout–another three, six, nine or 12 months–could result in more deaths from suicide, alcoholism and domestic violence than we would save from the virus.

    These are all things governors have to take into account.

    Simple solutions are for simple people.

  10. JP,
    Why do I try? I wanted to get into a non-political discussion about how the same conditions don’t apply to all people and all places.
    You don’t want to let that happen, so I’ll stop trying.
    Just don’t assume I could not answer every one of your points.

    1. It’s my opinion that your comment WAS political. Paraphrasing you “won’t send back the $1,200 check because why bother, government gives money to people who don’t deserve it, and it happens all the time?”

      I know a dog whistle when I hear or read one.

      For the 1,000th time, we agree to disagree.

      Peace brother…

  11. Mr. Jicha: You are, IMO, the king of one-liners: ‘Simple solutions are for simple people”.

    Do any of us, the Federal government, the state governments, anyone have any FACTS that support your apparent conclusion that an extended lockout would result in more deaths from suicide, alcoholism, and domestic violence?

    I wonder, today, about the people in Harrisburg, Pa. holding signs an hitting the care horn in a rage over the lockdown. How do you think these (simple people, Alice?) would react if a member of their family tree got nicked by the virus?

  12. I don’t think anyone–Republican, Democrat or Independent–would be happy to lose a loved one for any reason. But common sense has to rule.

    There are 480,000 tobacco related deaths every year in the U.S. but we still allow cigarettes to be sold and we certainly don’t lock down the country over it.

    There are 88,000 alcohol related deaths. We don’t outlaw alcohol. Been there, done that. We don’t shut down the country over that, either.

    There are about 35,000 auto accident deaths. We could eliminate virtually every one of them by dropping the speed limit to 10 mph. That, of course, is absurd, but no less so than shutting down the country over roughly the same number of virus deaths.

    More to this point, the flu averages about 50,000 deaths per year. We have never shut down the country in response.

    Common sense has to be the rule. If you want to improve your chances for a longer life, don’t smoke, drink in moderation, drive carefully and observe the speed limit and get a flu shot annually.

    We’ll save more lives than a national lockdown.

  13. I wonder how many of the annual tobacco-related deaths are from second-hand smoke.

    Comparing the 50,000 annual flu deaths with quarterly COVID-19 deaths understates the latter and doesn’t address the overtaxing the of the healthcare system by the number it hospitalizes. Vaccines are available to prevent the flu whose numbers must also be falling due to the shutdown.

    People abusing/addicted to tobacco and alcohol are not inflicting others with their dangerous condition, although some overlapping of auto and alcohol-related deaths must exist.

    Common sense tells me that significantly fewer people will die if the approach remains precautionary.

  14. Common sense over science regardless of the know projected increase in the loss of life? Maybe John’s life? Your’s or mine, just as well for that matter. Maybe another Nurse, Cop, or an exhausted Doctor or a neighborhood clerk at the Stop & Shop? Seems a little cold is all. What happened to our basic sense humanity?

    “Well sometimes stupidity is a great way of being and knowing. But to know that there is a perception beyond this, and stupidity led you there is maturity, and the decision to grow over that is absolute magic. -Vinay Nagaraju – Co-Founder and CIO, Data Solver Ltd.

    Suggest all first read more on the science of what lies ahead of us and then keep an open mind is all. Keep an open mind and allow six feet. We all have a skin in this game.

    Thank you in advance for taking the time to read the following educated analysis of our current situation. Throw all the rocks desired after reading if you disagree, but I side with reason and in knowing that I am content.

    1. Will read this McD. Thank you for trying to elevate the dialogue here at HRI. Much appreciated!

  15. Thank you in advance for taking the time to read the following educated analysis of our current situation. Throw all the rocks desired after reading if you disagree, but I side with reason and in knowing that I am content. .
    (URL post issue) You may need to search hussmanfunds. com comment mc200420 manually

  16. Mr Jicha
    When the government gets done printing all this money for stimulus, we will see what the resulting inflation does to your social security check. But in typical Trump fashion he could declare the country bankrupt and default on Treasury bills and the like.

  17. TTT

    Horseraceinsider, a great place for leftist agendas and rants. Unfortunately, many associated with thoroughbred racing laugh at your stupidity and foolishness. It amazes me that you are still able to rant while wearing those ridiculous masks, especially while standing 6 feet away from each other, while name dropping your fellow leftists and global takeover fools.

  18. hello!,I like your writing very a lot! proportion we keep in touch extra about your article on AOL? I need an expert in this area to solve my problem. May be that is you! Having a look forward to look you.

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