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.
Friday, February 15, 2013
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.
Posted by Alan Mann at 11:29 AM