Picture Thoroughbred racing as a multiplex cinema, showing a wide variety of movies over the past several months. Unfortunately, many of them have been ill-timed and offensive to a number of people. Therefore, it is important during these precarious times for the sport to tread carefully when it comes to public perception.
Any one of the films the sport has presented recently would be considered ill-advised, but for all of them to be shown within weeks of each other indicates how poor racing’s timing is, and how judicious it must be in the choices it makes.
Listed below are several of the films in question. I admit this format may seem a bit contrived, but commentary alone has -- pardon the cliché -- fallen on deaf ears.
For Whom the Belle Tolls – It tolls for a gallant filly. The Eight Belles tragedy created the biggest uproar since The Passion of the Christ, except nobody liked this one. When animal rights people, including a hardcore group of misinformed PETA members, protested vehemently against racing, comparing it to dog fighting, high-ranking members of the sport needed to step forward and defend its honor, while pointing out to PETA why their fury was misplaced and based mostly on misguided passion rather than facts. Not one ever came forward.
Witness for the Prosecution – With defense witnesses like the ones at last week’s congressional hearings, who needs a prosecutor? Once again, racing was abandoned and left exposed by its so-called spokespeople. The congressional subcommittee came armed with heavy ammunition, but it wasn’t needed, because the witnesses – many of them leaders in the industry – fired the bullets for them. This was the Scopes Monkey Trial minus Clarence Darrow, or for Inherit the Wind fans, Spencer Tracy. Was there no one among this hand-picked (by the subcommittee) group that could defend racing by at least pointing out some of its good points rather that go on ad nauseum about how troubled the sport is and how it needs federal intervention to save it from itself? Yes, racing needed a swift kick in the ass, but let’s hope its leaders who have a more positive outlook on the sport step forward and take action.
“Whip” Tide – Jeremy Rose has released a statement regarding his actions on June 23, in which he whipped his mount in the face, injuring her eye. Although he claims it was an accident and his statement sounds sincere and extremely apologetic, this was the worst possible time for this to happen. There is no good time for something like this to happen, but, with all the talk now about racing’s cruelty and cries for abolishing the whip, could there have been a worse time? Rose’s six-month suspension, or however long he serves, unfortunately, may be the least of his problems. He will be caught in the undertow of public protest and swept away to who knows where. We all remember Rose for his and Afleet Alex’s miraculous escape from disaster in the 2005 Preakness Stakes, so, perhaps, the memory of that incident will eventually get him back in good standing.
But right now, it is going to be difficult for him to return from his suspension and not incur the wrath of the fans and all animal lovers unless it is forgotten by then. That wrath has already flooded the internet. The question is, can his explanation of what happened erase the terrible image that is being viewed as we speak by people all over the country. Should this one incident ruin a rider’s entire career and reputation? For a first offense, a veteran like Rose is entitled to a second chance after serving his penalty. But for now, the bottom line is, Rose not only committed what people view as a heinous act, his timing was lousy, and he must bear the guilt for that as well, as unjust as it may seem.
Rick-ochet – Talk about lousy timing, this no doubt will come bouncing off the wall. Rick Dutrow’s 15-day suspension for a clenbuterol positive just adds to the weird funk racing is in from a timing standpoint. Not the right time or the right person. Dutrow told the New York Times: “I was there all week and am responsible. I use that medication on many of my horses and only once can ever remember having a problem with it.” Dutrow has appealed the suspension, so we'll have to see how this plays out and what the circumstances were. Cases such as this normally are also about bad timing, with the medication (in this case one commonly used) not clearing the horse’s system in time. But whenever you hear the words drugs, positive, and suspension, especially regarding someone as high-profiled as Dutrow is right now, it is likely the case will be blown out of proportion. And you can't blame anyone for doing so. This ill-timed incident comes on the heels of the positive test for the same drug by Eight Belles' trainer Larry Jones. What are the odds of these two particular trainers, who have been mired in so much controversy recently, both coming up positive for the same drug within a week of each other?
Bringing Up Baby – There is nothing particularly timely about this, but while we’re on the subject of things that need changing in racing, how about the 2-year-old sales? If you want to hear disturbing stories, just talk to a number of trainers of 2-year-old sales graduates about the condition of the horses when they arrive at the barn and how long it takes to get those horses to the races or even begin serious training. I won’t go into details about what many of these babies have to go through to get them to work an eighth of a mile in :09 seconds and change, a time they will never even close to approaching ever again. Horsemen pride themselves in their ability to pick out young horses based on their horsemanship and pedigree prowess. So, why can’t they use their skills in picking out 2-year-olds based on how the horse gallops -- their stride, the way they move etc? Does it require any skill whatsoever to pick out a young undeveloped horse just because he’s able to work faster than a Quarter-Horse? Heck, you and I can go to a 2-year-old sale and buy whoever has the fastest work if that’s the kind of short-term fix we’re looking for. We don’t need a bloodstock agent for that; we don’t even need to have a clue what we’re doing. The only thing we’d need is money, nothing more.
With the increasing number of synthetic surfaces across the country, there could very well come a time when there will be no reason to work a young horse that fast, because early blazing speed will no longer be desirable. So, why not start getting into that mindset now?