FLORENCE, Ky. (Mar. 22, 2014) -- I'm writing today from Turfway Park, we're covering the Spiral Stakes (gr. III) gearing up for the Kentucky Derby Presented by Yum! Brands (gr. I). It's been a hectic couple of weeks, first traveling to Oaklawn Park for the Rebel (gr. II), now here, and next Saturday looming with the Florida Derby (gr. I) and Louisiana Derby (gr. II) cards as well as Dubai World Cup Day on the line. Before you know it, Keeneland's opening day will be upon us April 4, and then it's all downhill to the first Saturday in May.
When you cover racing 24-7 and this sport is all you see, the good and bad plays out before your eyes. You get to know the game and the figures, pros and cons, good guys and the jerks, just like any other reporter on any other beat. I've watched phenomenal horses dazzle with brilliant talent in history-making performances, and I've covered the darker side as well. I recognize that our industry has issues, and that half of the people who talk of ways to solve them offer opinions with little follow-through; lip service that does little aside from serving their self-interest. Over the years, however, I've also met hundreds of people who have made a change, who are working to make the sport better, who have dedicated their lives to integrity and respect for the horse, their hearts bolstered by the ups and broken by the downs this game has to offer.
Between 3-year-old prep weekends, news of the PETA investigation of Steve Asmussen's barn broke like a slam to the industry's chest. First reported by the New York Times on March 19, the report and video footage collected by an undercover agent was quickly a hot topic on social media, particularly Twitter, where horse racing fans, media, and professionals abound. I'm proud of the progress the sport of horse racing has made by embracing this social media platform, because it gives members of the sport a platform with which to fight back against PETA's blanket claims.
While I am a strong advocate of acountability and policing of the sport, I am equally unwavering in my trust of horsemen whose lifelong skill and ability I have seen play out race after race, month after month, year after year. Yes, there are bad people in horse racing, and I am hopeful that this investigation will inspire certain trainers to treat their charges with the respect and dignity they deserve, and I am also hopeful it and other ongoing investigations will inspire harsher penalties for those who skirt the law. But there are also very good people in racing, some of the best I've had the honor to work around, and they should not become victims of a universal judgment.
With that in mind, I was pleased to note the #FullStoryPETA trend started on Twitter on the evening of March 19.
"I started this campaign in response to the recent PETA film that painted the entire racing industry in a negative light," said Molly McGill, digital media coordinator at HRTV. "The idea behind the hashtag was simple: PETA, you showed the public your side of the story, now let the racing industry (do the same) with images of our own. The trend is used not to respond to the specific contents of the film, it is to show PETA's blanket statement that everyone in racing does not care about the horse was completely incorrect."
Since the hashtag started over 400 pictures have been shared, highlighted by jockey Rosie Napravnik, California Horse Racing Board chairman Bo Derek, racing leaders, horsemen (and women), and fans. Here's another.