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Saturday, March 29, 2014

Manipulated News in the Times - Shocking!!

I previewed today's Florida Derby on the TimeformUS blog here.  And took a look at the New Orleans Handicap, with Palace Malice facing Normandy Invasion, here.  I know everyone's focused on the Derby preps, but that seems like the most interesting match-up of the day to me.

 - Joe Drape reported on the Seamy Side of a Sport: Prodding Horses With Shocks.  What's interesting here is that Drape now refers to video clips that were not included in the original nine minute and 29 second trailer that was issued by PETA. 

To authorities, it provided another clip — viewed by The New York Times — of two Asmussen employees speaking about how the Hall of Fame jockey Calvin Borel frequently employs a buzzer to work out horses and to condition them to run close to the rail, including the 2010 Kentucky Derby winner, Super Saver.

Jerry Hissam, the longtime agent for Borel, said the allegations were “ridiculous.”
So, I suppose that we can surely expect that the Times is going to milk this out to maximum effect.  Again, if the Times has seen all of this video, then c'mon, tell us what you got.   To dole it out over a period of time and coincide it with the Kentucky Derby is manipulating the information to further its agenda.  More like conducting a political campaign than reporting the news.

Drape also notes:
In the 2000s alone, there have been 53 buzzer cases at racetracks ranging from Lone Star Park in Texas and Suffolk Downs in Massachusetts to Delaware Park in Delaware and Penn National in Pennsylvania.
Hmm, 53, that sounds like a lot.  But what exactly is the context; how often does it really occur?  So I asked our guy at TimeformUS who produces wonky data if he could, without getting in trouble with Equibase, tell me just how many races were run in the 2000s alone.  It took him exactly four minutes to inform me that there, between 1/1/00 and 12/31/09, there were 579,313 thoroughbred races in the U.S. and Canada (including jumping races).  (If the Times can include New Mexico quarter horses in their 24 22.83 deaths a week stat, I can use jumps for this.)

That means that, in the 2000s, 579,260 out of 579,313 races were run without any official suspicion of buzzer use.  Or, assuming here that all of the incidents involved races, you can say that .009% of races raised concerns of electrical hanky panky; a percentage that the government might consider to be an acceptable level of cancer risk. 

Now, again, my intent is not to minimize the statistic, only to provide context that the Times does not.  53 buzzer "cases" (whatever that means, but let's presume it means an actual proven incident); that's 5.3 a year.  That's pretty messed up....and that's only counting when the perpetrator is caught.  Still, not only does Drape fail to provide the basic context of the statistic, by writing 'in the 2000s alone,' he is going out of his way to frame it negatively.  We're actually talking about something that is exceedingly rare in the scheme of things.  I would think that if doping incidents or breakdowns occurred at a similar rate, we'd all be extremely happy, and wouldn't be reading Death and Disarray articles in the Times.

And I'm not really sure what else, other than continue to dole out lengthy suspensions, "racing" is supposed to do about it, short of conducting wand and body searches of every jockey or exercise rider who steps onto a track.  As we know, there are bad apples in any profession cheating in order to get ahead, and only a certain number of them get caught.  Heaven knows that much of it involves things far more insidious than shocking a horse.  And it's also worth mentioning that we allow the same jockeys to beat an exhausted horse repeatedly with a whip; that's OK.  As Weisbod said in his TDN piece, "while we're at it, let's lose the whips too."

Drape also repeats the allegations against Ricardo Santana Jr., noting that "PETA has accused" him of battery use.  But we don't know whether this is based solely on the comments by Blasi in the video, or if PETA has something else on the guy that's in the documentation that the Times has seen.  Because, if not, then the Times is making a pretty prominent allegation based on some pretty flimsy evidence. Who knows, maybe Blasi was indeed being accurate.  But I'd just think that an accusation of that gravity made by a major newspaper should be based on more than some windbag babbling to a woman with whom he was apparently alone in his living quarters, and of whom we can only speculate as to what she was doing there.  For all we know, Blasi could have been drunk, bragging, and/or exaggerating.  If Santana is indeed innocent, perhaps he should take a page out of the Larry Saumell playbook.


kyle said...

To be involved in the release and reporting of that video, and then not give the public any greater context that you might be privy to, is journalistic malpractice. Someone should start a Twitter hashtag: #WhatJoeDrapesaid. And just tweet a bunch of little bits of things he has said or written. Maybe that would make the point.

Steve in NC said...

Basically in agreement on Drape. But I don't buy your defense or your statistical calculations.

If there have been 53 cases, that doesn't mean that all other races are definitely clean.

If one jock is caught in one race, would you presume that he had never used it in any of thousands of prior races? I love longshots but that's not one I would play.

Stevens' and Lukas' comments are not evidence that any particular jock cheated in any particular race. But those comments demonstrate to me that buzzers have been widely used in certain times and places. So why should anyone presume that most races are free of them today?

The question I have is whether buzzers are really so bad, or so much worse than whips. I haven't ridden much, but my understanding is that horses stop when you pull back on the reins because it makes the bit hurt their mouths.

Buzzers may be a fairness issue unless all the jocks have them, but are they a health/safety issue? This isn't a rhetorical question. I certainly don't want to take PETA's answer. Any horsemen/women willing to chime in?

Anonymous said...

Is sticking the tip of a charged 9 volt battery to your tongue a health hazard?