I have had my differences over the years with the New York Times, my former employer via the International Herald Tribune, but there are some things they still do well. While the old gray lady seems to prefer to spend money on lavish executive bonuses rather than gathering and reporting the news, they still have a reserve for funding investigative reporting, and they recently threw a packet at a series looking at the U.S. racing industry. The first installment (of how many, I’m not sure) was released over the weekend, and it has caused quite a stir. I’m only worried it isn’t causing enough of one. There were about 100 comments on the Times’ web site in the first hours after publication, and there are about 480 now. The pace has slowed dramatically in the past few days.
My friends at the Paulick Report are following it pretty closely, and there is a good debate going on over there, but one would expect that since the site is a gathering place for people either connected to the industry or dedicated fans and gamblers (a dying breed, to be sure).
The first article was pretty sensational, but it had to be to get the point across: Fatal accidents are rife in American racing, much moreso than elsewhere in the racing world, and the major difference between the United States and the rest of the world is the allowance of various medications to be in a horse’s system on race day. I have been crusading against race-day medication in America pretty much since I learned about racing as a journalist and certainly since I became a trainer. I remember very well a few long conversations with Joe Drape on the subject when we met up at the Dubai World Cup in 2007. He had never really thought much about the prevalence of Lasix use or the fact that most other jurisdictions banned such drugs. I expounded that I didn’t think it was right that most horses racing in America had two or three injections for breakfast on race day. That planted the seed.
A few high-profile accidents (Eight Belles or Barbaro, anyone?) and one Big Brown later, and people started to wake up to the difference. When the unfortunate Barbaro was put down, I was asked to write a European perspective for the Times, which I did. At the time, I didn’t feel I could hit the subject as hard as Joe and his team have now done, but if you read my story, all of the same issues are raised. And therein lies the problem. There has been endless talk of the problems plaguing U.S. racing and plenty of pledges to do better. But nothing has changed.
I applaud the new Times series, and I hope – yet again – that something can change. But given the track record of those in charge of the sport, I’m not optimistic. Still, I add my voice, yet again, to those who know that racing CAN truly be the sport of kings, with thoroughbreds from age-old bloodlines competing on their merits, rather than on those of their veterinarian.