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Friday, February 15, 2013

Still Dealing With It

Last week, NYRA formally announced the formation of the Equine Safety Review Board, one of the "key recommendations" of the task force that reported on the spate of breakdown on the inner track last year.    If I'm not mistaken, the toll at the current meet stands at seven in 35 days (not counting heart attacks and non-racing-related infections, of which there's been one each).

At that rate, now that the NYRA Reorganization Board has shortened the inner track racing season by six days - under the utterly ridiculous (as eloquently explained by Steve Crist) guise of a safety measure - I figure they have saved the life of 1.2 horses.  For one thing, that proves that the new Board is indeed completely independent of Governor Cuomo who, behind closed doors, I imagine couldn't really care less about the fate of a mere 1 1/5 horse as opposed to the revenue that may be lost to the state.

And secondly, wow, think of how many horses they can save if they just don't race at all.  Now, we wouldn't want that, would we?  However, if it is really true that, as Anthony Bonomo, the Chairman of the Equine Safety Committee of the Board, suggested between Bobby Flay's comedic monologues at the last meeting of the Board, "one injury or fatality is too many," then what really is the alternative?  I mean, it's an admirable thought.  However, given the nature of thoroughbred racing in this country, in which horses are gunned at full speed into hairpin turns on hard dirt surfaces, it's completely unrealistic.  What is an "acceptable" number of fatalities?  Don't know, but it surely is more than one.  And I'd venture to say that it's well north of the four or five high school kids who die playing football each year.

It's not only totally unrealistic in my opinion, it's an attitude that is actually dangerous to the future of this sport.  As long as racing entities such as the NYRA Board remains obsessed with unattainable goals and wallows in self-despair after reading the latest entry of Death and Disarray at Racetracks in the Times, nothing is ever going to be done towards innovation and towards marketing the game (other than perhaps installing a Banana Republic outlet at Belmont).  NYRA can have their Safety Board, they can conduct their nationwide search for an Equine Veterinary Medical Director, and spend money and resources to have full necropsies performed on every dead animal.....and what do you think they will find and conclude?  Maybe I'm wrong, and they'll find some underlying and correctable thread, be it cheating or drugs or some other strand of evil or circumstance.  But I'd bet a dollar five dollars to a donut that they will conclude that, in general, horses die for little other reason than that human beings, in their endless pursuit of money and merriment (in no particular order), put them at risk by strapping on a saddle, giving a jock a leg up, and sending them out to run on a track.

I don't mean to be insensitive.  But it's a tough world out there.  Corporations routinely make conscious decisions to enhance their bottom line without regard for the consequences to human lives.  Life seems cheap to gun owners who fight back against even the most incremental steps against the most extreme weapons, even in the wake of a massacre of grade school kids.  Innocent people die in drone attacks, and we say 'oops, sorry' and hand them a check.

And, animals?  Ha.  We breed them to perform, to exhibit in cages, to slaughter for our nourishment or for scientific research to extend our own lives.  We hunt and kill them for absolutely no reason other than to amuse ourselves.

The luckier domestic ones who we breed to provide us with companionship are exempted from these cruel fates.  Racehorses?  I suppose they fall somewhere in between.  The vast majority of them are treated with tender loving care and seem to lead good lives.  Nonetheless, the fact is that they are brought onto this earth strictly for us to exploit for our own selfish purposes.  If we really cared about their welfare, then, short of letting them run free in a field, we'd ban all dirt racing and race strictly on grass, rid ourselves of the ridiculous (and destructive) obsession with speed, and race as they do in other countries - on kinder grass surfaces, in races in which they spend most of the time jockeying for position and run hard only towards the end.  And that ain't gonna happen, as we know.  Because it doesn't suit our financial needs nor the 'tradition' that causes so many people to be closed-minded in many respects.

So, if you are a racing enthusiast, you have bought into this.  And, when these unfortunate, and again, in my own estimation, unavoidable accidents happen, then, as I wrote the morning after the Eight Belles tragedy that has altered this game more than any other single event in this century, deal with it.  Or, find something else to do.  That's the way it is, in my view.  I don't think it makes the game of horse racing evil; it's just the way it is.

I was teasing my friend Teresa over a comment she made on Twitter, and, as an animal lover, she responded, with respect to her way of dealing with conflicted feelings about the sport:  "With full awareness. And some denial. And maybe hypocrisy, and a lot of ambivalence."  I suppose many of us feel that way to some extent, but I don't at all begrudge those who either don't give it a second thought, or shun the sport entirely.  To each, his or her own.  Horse racing is a sport that's on the edge; a bit of a scoundrel's game.  And that's always been part of the appeal as far as I'm concerned. Damn, it was a hell of a lot more fun when we just accepted it for what it is.


Thoroughbred Ed said...

"If we really cared about their welfare, then, short of letting them run free in a field, we'd ban all dirt racing and race strictly on grass, rid ourselves of the ridiculous (and destructive) obsession with speed, and race as they do in other countries - on kinder grass surfaces, in races in which they spend most of the time jockeying for position and run hard only towards the end. And that ain't gonna happen, as we know."

Nice rant about what could be done but I don't agree with your conclusion. The Sport (not The Game/Gamble) will have to change in order to appeal to the next generation of potential fans/owners -the gamblers will always be their but even some of them are have difficulties with the status quo. There is a growing understanding within the industry that changes must be implemented. You are right that your 'rant's wish list' will not be completely implemented but there are other aspects of The Sport that can change that can signficantly improve the welfare for our Thoroughbreds.

Ken Lian, DVM
President - Thoroughbred Education Foundation, Inc.

Figless said...

Do we eliminate grass sprints as well?

Theresa's mention of hypocrisy is most appropriate. Race day safety is strictly about perception.

Most of these horses meat (no pun) tragic and horrible ends but since its not in the public eye few resources are committed to finding solutions to the unwanted horse disaster.

Instead we spend our time arguing over racing surfaces and race day medication which pale in comparison.

If we ever found a real Mr. Ed that could truly talk, I suspect his opinion would be to stop worrying about what happens during competition, that's part of the sport. Spend time finding a solution to the end game.

Anonymous said...

I do accept it for what it is.It's the medicated people who don't.

I'm more concerned about the Trees(a living thing)The number of trees killed(compared to horses) every day to print the New York Times,It's a daily slaughter.It's outrageous!!!

August Song said...

It's always a good thing when one tries to put things in their proper perspective. Our sport of horseracing can be dangerous, and that would be for humans as well as equines. It is a fait accompli. But, as my friend used to tell me, "You're walking on the sidewalk, minding your own business, not having a care or concern in the world, and from out of nowhere a car or truck veers out of control and hits you, and you're gone."

We live in a world with danger all around us, every time we get up in the morning, and even if we are still sleeping, whether we choose to recognize that particular aspect, or not. Recent meteorological events like Super Storm Sandy confirm that. We, as humans, go about our routines each day, that we've established and maintained, without focusing much on a calamity that could befall each and every one of us, no matter how miniscule the chances might be. But, it's out there, whether you, or I, want to recognize this fact, or not. It is always out there. It will never change. Being alive, has it's risks. And, one doesn't always know when something will happen. What might start put as something quite ordinary, innocuous, serene, or even placid, can suddenly change. And what was once alive, is no more.

I've come to believe it's the same way with equines. A few years back, I kept track of a full sister to a successful horse that I had been a partner in. Despite exactly the same pedigree, she wasn't as successful a racehorse as the one I had been directly involved with. And so after a few very sub-par efforts by the less successful sister, and as so often is the case, she was sent to the farm for some rest and relaxation time, to return the racetrack when it was felt she could focus better on the task of being a more competitive racehorse than she had been. At the farm, she was sent out to the pasture with the other fillies and mares. As it is so often the case, being new, the other horses didn't "socialize" with her. When a sudden storm rolled in, and the help on the farm was running around, rounding up all the horses to bring them into the barn, it was easier and more expeditious to get the group into the shelter, and then round up any "loose ones." When the help went back to get the full sister, it was too late. She had been struck by lightning by the flash storm, and killed. On the racetrack, or even out in the pasture, there is risk --- just like walking on the sidewalk, minding one's own business.

kyle said...

Pretty well said. Progressive-ism run amok. It's everywhere. It's end game is complete "security" at the expense of all individual freedom. In this particular case what that means is no racing and the extinction of the thoroughbred breed as a result. Clear rules, individual responsibilty, and swift, sure and equitable enforcement and punishment is the answer here and throughout the greater society.