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Thursday, April 30, 2009

Into The Mainstream

Forcibly liberated from Rangers hockey for the season and still uninspired by this year's Derby, I went out to see the Scottish band Mogwai last night at the Music Hall of Williamsburg, a fine and relatively new space in Brooklyn. Playing mostly instrumentals, this band pounds out down-tempo "post-rock" dirges; quite epic and melodramatic in nature, a natural progression I suppose for a kid who counted King Crimson and Procol Harum amongst his faves back in the day. Loud, tight, and intense with a wall of guitars and a rumbling bass. Great show; their latest album is available on Matador.

While awaiting the band's appearance, I overheard a conversation about the Kentucky Derby, surprise surprise. They were talking about mint juleps, and I think they were planning to go to the Bell House, also in Brooklyn, where the official Derby drink is free from 5 until 6!! Free!!! Yeah, they're probably in little shot glasses, but who's to complain for free!?

I knew they weren't real fans, because they referred to the favorite as He Wants Revenge. But it's always nice to see the sport drift, if ever so slightly, into the mainstream this time of year. Reader RG alerts us to a special on CNBC tonight. There's a long article on Larry Jones in this week's issue of The New Yorker (registration required to read the entire article). The first part is worth reading - it discusses how Rick Porter chose Jones and describes his unorthodox training methods. But then it moves into a detailed recounting of the Eight Belles disaster, so I didn't bother going through the rest. The Book Bench, a New Yorker blog, has a piece on Five Splendid Books for Derby Day (though the Racing Form will generally suffice for me).

And then we have on the front page of the New York Times, Joe Drape's article with the headline Despite Outcry, Derby Owners Fall Silent on Drugs for Horses, complete with a photo of a horse with notations of which drugs work their magic where. The Paper of Record continues its year-long assault on the racing industry.

Of the 20 owners or their trainers who as of Monday intended to run a horse in the Derby, only three shared their veterinary records with The New York Times.
The 17 owners unwilling to show the records offered a variety of reasons for their refusal. Some talked about competitive pressures, and one trainer cited his horse’s privacy.

David Lanzman, co-owner of the Derby favorite, I Want Revenge, referred the inquiry to his trainer, Jeff Mullins. “I’m a mortgage banker,” Lanzman said. “I don’t know what goes on back there.” Mullins declined to provide the records.

The owners’ responses make it impossible to tell what practices even racing’s most prominent and accomplished people follow when using chemistry to improve their horses’ performance. [NY Times]
Well, if I was a trainer administering legal medication to my horse, I wouldn't tell Drape about it either. Not a matter of hiding anything given the fact that we're talking about permissible medication. But why would I give away my trade secrets like that? (And I'd have to believe that the guy who said he was protecting his horse's privacy had to be putting him on.)

Here again is a case of the press commenting dispassionately on a controversy that it played a major role in creating, like the reports we read about the "circus" that Governor Paterson created over his Senate selection, when it was that press itself which mostly created it. The Times, with its William C. Rhoden columns and Drape's reporting on Rick Dutrow, played a major role in the "outcry" that Drape cites - and over what? I don't want to sound cold and unfeeling here, but let's be objective - one dead horse in 134 years of Kentucky Derbies is really hardly newsworthy at all, the obvious and understandable melancholy and tragic effects on its connections and lovers of the sport and breed aside. And the big fuss over Dutrow and Big Brown was over a drug which was perfectly legal at the time, and which had nothing to do with Eight Belles at all. Yes, it's certainly a concern that, as noted in the article, the death rate for racehorses in this country far exceeds those overseas. But that's way old news, and does it really warrant a front page story in the New York Times?

- Mogwai


steve in nc said...

Harp all you want, Alan, but I think Joe Drape is doing a lot more to help racing than the NTRA and the rest of the insiders who can't even circle their wagons successfully.

Would you rather have your doctor be able to learn from others in the field or have each doctor protect their "trade secrets"?!! Are you also ready to call for deletion of L and B from the past performances in the interest of protecting vets' and trainers' techniques? You are right about the idea of protecting horses' privacy being a joke.

Medications are supposed to be about keeping the animals healthy, so vets who really care about doing that should be sharing info with colleagues. I for one would like to see med, supplement & vitamin lists made public along with the horses' weights.

I don't think keeping drugs out will end breakdowns (although I do think it might help a little). My anti-drug stance (for racehorses) is because I'm a player, not an animal rights activist. They don't even put the damned vets' names in the pps. I'm sick of it and I hope Drape keeps giving 'em hell.

Alan Mann said...

Steve - Fair point, especially about the L and B, but I don't buy your doctor analogy. They're not, in theory anyway, involved in fierce competition with their peers for business and earnings as trainers are. It's business, and if they're playing within the rules, then I don't see where they are in violation or why they would be obligated to show their hands. I think yours is a view that is typical for a liberal pinko Commie like yerself! :-)

Erin said...

The problem I have is that what vets are doing to racehorses is not supposed to be "trade secrets," as in recipes for creating winners.

Vets, imo, should only be administering treatments for health problems - healing horses, making them 100 per cent healthy - not making them faster.

Keith - Triple Dead Heat said...

I echo Erin's thoughts. I also Echo & The Bunnymen though that's a different style of music entirely.

I remember when you used to be able to read about medical violations in the program weeks after the race...."oh yeah, no wonder that horse won...."


Teresa said...

Even the esteemed New Yorker spells wrong (right?) Pioneerof The Nile's name.

Alan Mann said...

Keith - Echo and the Bunnymen are my favorite live band of all time. I saw them ten times at ten different venues (The Ritz, Peppermint Lounge, Felt Forum, Academy of Music, Beacon, Radio City, West Side Pier, Roseland, I know, that's only eight)...and had like 5th row seats for them in Albany but the show was canceled due to poor ticket sales. This was all in the 90's - I haven't seen them in their current reincarnation, but I think they are coming around this summer and I'd planning to.

Anonymous said...

Trivia Question on QRXK the other day, who was Echo?

Alan Mann said...

>>Trivia Question on QRXK the other day, who was Echo?

I believe that Echo referred to a drum machine. (?)

Anonymous said...

Your boy Patterson is a racist:

ALBANY -- Gov. Paterson, who raised state taxes by $8 billion last month, just cost state taxpayers $300,000 more.

The state has secretly settled an embarrassing federal racial-discrimination lawsuit, The Post has learned. The suit accused Paterson, back when he was Senate minority leader in 2003, of firing a white Senate photographer in order to replace him with an African-American.

The lawsuit had been scheduled to go to trial in federal court Monday in Syracuse, with Paterson, the state's first black governor, as a key witness. The case was settled earlier in the week, although a few glitches delayed the final deal until yesterday, legislative sources said.