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Monday, May 05, 2008

Waldrop Speaks Up

- I was going to make a snarky remark this afternoon about the fact that the NTRA website made no mention whatsoever of Eight Belles. However, CEO Alex Waldrop now has a blog entry featured on the front page. I think that, to his credit, he raises all of the right questions. Unfortunately, he doesn't answer any of them. But it's a start, anyway. I'm not going to reprint any of it here; please just check it out, and leave him a comment and tell him what you think.

- Here's a view from the other side of the pond:

If any good comes from the very public demise of Eight Belles, who broke both forelegs as she was pulling up after her gallant effort against the colts, it is that it may be another nail in the coffin of dirt tracks, increasingly seen as an unnatural anachronism. She is the third high-profile performer to suffer a fatal injury at a top US track in the past year, after Barbaro in the Preakness and George Washington in the Breeders' Cup Classic. And the less brutal synthetic surfaces that are replacing dirt (and may ultimately negate the US's culture of drug-dependency for its equine athletes) have the vote of confidence of a first Breeders' Cup meet this year, the 25th in the series, at Santa Anita in October. [Independent UK]
- Churchill Downs stock, which was down last week after the shares were downgraded by an analyst concerned about the ADW dispute, was further battered on Monday.
Steven Wieczynski, an analyst with Stifel Nicolaus & Co., said the Kentucky Derby was likely to be overshadowed by the horse's death.

"We believe horse racing in general will receive a magnitude of negative press from this incident," he wrote in a client note. [AP]
The stock was down 5% to $45.84.

3 Comments:

DC said...

Santa Anita may not be synthetic when the Breeders Cup rolls around. They're still kicking around the idea of going back to dirt.

I do believe they'll stick with synthetic track however, likely either Tapeta or Pro-Ride.

Regarding Del Mar, i understand they're going to water the polytrack this year, something they refused to do last year (based on the advice of the Polytrack supplier). The track was noticeably quicker in the mornings due to the marine layer, and the horsemen were very happy with the way the track played with some moisture in it. Unfortunately, the marine layer had burned off by the afternoon, resulting in the snail-like race times.

ballyfager said...

The man can't even count. Barbaro's injury was TWO years ago. That kind of dishonesty is always indicative of an agenda (as with the NYT).

It seems to me that commom sense dictates the source of the problem lies more likely in the horses themselves than in the track surface.

There is no proof that synthetic tracks are the answer so what is driving the impetus to go in that direction?

steve in nc said...

I left this post on Waldrop's blog. With apologies in advance for the excess verbiage, I'll put it here too...

You wrote: "The easy path might be to hunker down and let these issues dissipate over time."

I predict that is exactly what NTRA will do, because, hey, without any inside information what do we have to go by other than the past performances? I see no indication that the blinkers of denial are coming off.

Please prove me wrong. The consensus view among those who love racing is that the horses in the US are now bred for precocity and speed much more than they were 30 years ago. This, along with the flood of steroids, diuretics, anti-inflamatories, not to mention the illegal drugs these legal ones help mask, have led to the development of a more fragile US thoroughbred population.

What can NTRA do? Here are some possible ideas for submission to your bully pulpit (yes you have one, and if you use it for things other than the PR platitudes we've seen so far, you might actually provide, gasp, leadership!).

1) Look for ways to force horses to demonstrate soundness and longevity as a PRECONDITION for becoming succesful studs. Think about using race eligibility rules for this purpose. For example, restricing Breeders' Cup races to progeny of sires that have raced at least 5 times at age four. This would not only improve the breed, but it sure would improve the sport!

2) Make 2YO races go back to being the preps for 3YO racing they used to be. Pressure tracks to start 2YO racing later in the year. No more big purses for 2 YO stakes. Make every incentive lead trainers/owners to aim for 3YO and 4YO success.

3) Reform the Triple Crown. Every trainer knows the toll this series puts on young horses. Make the Preakness the first Saturday in June and the Belmont on July 4th weekend. Will it take (god forbid) Big Brown breaking down in the Preakness like Barbaro to the industry to change? Every major sport has changed its playoff schedule to meet modern needs. When will racing decide to try to be once again a major sport?

4) Call for a return to the rules most of the rest of the world is still somehow able to live by -- no more drugs. Work to make the penalties for violations uniform and stiff.

5) Pressure tracks to all kick back a small % of handle for a national drug testing and research lab. Freeze samples so that cheaters have to worry about being caught by better tests down the road.

6)Use some of the money to fund development of refined imaging techniques to better spot bone flaws and weakness -- maybe someday, pre-race screeing will prevent some of the tragedies.

7) Collect, house & disseminate national statistics on safety -- for races at different distances in different weather conditions on different surfaces; for workouts; for walking ring and paddock accidents; for barn and other incidents.

I'm just a handicapper and fan. I'm sure my ideas have flaws, and the industry itself could come up with better and more ideas for improvement. But if it has, it sure isn't campaigning it to get those ideas implemented. That takes leadership.

Mr. Waldrop, I'll admit you are riding a fractious animal. Each leg -- Magna, Churchill, NYRA and the other combined -- wants to go at different paces. But PETA be damned -- show the industry the whip, make the reins in your hands mean something, and Go Baby Go!