Racing Strikes Back - By Evan Hammonds

For the past 20 years Thoroughbred racing has been losing “market share” as a relative sport in the major press. Entries and results have disappeared from most newspapers, and stories and features—even about the major races—have been given ever-shrinking space.

Tragically, the events that started this spring in Southern California have brought the coverage back to the top of the fold, but not in a good way. The sport has become fodder for feature stories on the rigors of racing and training, and the greed of owners and track operators, often written by those who know little about the intricacies of racing.

Most everyone in the game has had enough. Some are doing something about it.

The Internet, especially social media, allows most everyone to have a platform. There have been several posts, blogs, and op-ed pieces lately that are challenging the onslaught of attacks coming from many fronts.

On our pages this week (see page 17), Dr. Ferrin Peterson, a veterinarian who is also a jockey, wrote an open letter to Dianne Feinstein, the California Senator who has been outspoken on shutting down racing in Southern California. Published on several platforms beyond BloodHorse, Peterson’s passionate plea for the sport and the actions already taken to address several issues prior to the Nov. 1-2 Breeders’ Cup shows in her letter. A portion:

“Changes are always needed. And even though changes made in a large industry like horse racing require time and patience to take their full effect, I have seen immediate positive impact because of recent alterations in whipping and medication rules that benefit both horse and rider.

“As a jockey, I put my life on the line every time I ride. I care about the safety of my horses just as much as I do for myself and other jockeys. If I was not fully convinced that our industry was constantly striving for improved welfare of our animals, I would not be a jockey. I only ask that you recognize the progress being made toward the highest possible level of racehorse care because I know that these horses are already receiving some of the best care in the world, and we are doing all we can to actively remediate the current challenges facing our industry.”

Pete Fornatale, a former writer for Daily Racing Form and currently podcasting, wrote a piece for the San Francisco Chronicle entitled, “Put the horse-racing fatalities in perspective.” In it he notes the unfortunate accidents that occur in racing, but also points out some 
2 million unwanted cats and dogs are killed each year in the U.S.

“None of us like this statistic, but we mostly accept it as part of the cost of being able to have a pet. Plus, we accept that our pets are domesticated animals, bred over centuries to be human companions.

“We know that they are inextricably a part of the human world, for better or worse. Often for better.

“The same is true for Thoroughbred racehorses. They have been bred over many hundreds of years to work with humans to do one thing: run. These aren’t plow or riding or carriage horses, plucked from other work and forced to run. Racing is their job, and if given proper care and training, they do it well, healthfully and with palpable satisfaction.”

And, Donna Barton Brothers, a former jockey and currently an analyst for NBC Sports, connects with a haymaker on her blog “PETA Is a Bully” on It is an exhaustive study of the People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals and its relationship with horse racing. We strongly encourage everyone to read it. She closes with this:

“This is not a time to stand silently and idly by while we watch a bully on their pulpit: the compliant, cynical, and fatalistic media and the extremist groups that help them line their pockets. In many cases the media outlets are simply uninformed and, yes, this is to some extent their own fault. However, PETA is handing them a story to tell. What sort of stories are we offering? This is the time to wear your heart on your sleeve. It’s long been respected on the racetrack to keep your emotions in check and stay mum about the people, horses, dogs, and cats that mean the most to you. This is not the time for stoicism—but rather, for activism. Are you with me?”

We are, Donna, and, we hope we’re not alone.

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