OK, so Rachel Alexander is the U.S. Horse of the Year. Zenyatta is not. It would be great if actual horse racing got going again so there would be something else to read about than this endless debate over an award that has very little to do with what actually happens on a racetrack. But now that the actual award is behind us, the new topic is when the two Big Mares will actually race each other. One of the themes that keep coming up on blogs across cyberspace is the worry that one or both will suffer catastrophic injuries in the year ahead. Does this not strike anyone as a stunning indictment on the state of American racing? Here you have two of the most outstanding equine athletes in modern times, and all fans are thinking is “wow, I hope they make it back alive.” That tells me more than anything that the sport there is doomed. It doesn’t have to be that way. Goldikova is staying in training this year, too, and here in France, we’re all just thinking “cool – we get to see her race again this year.” We’re not thinking, “gee, I hope she’s still breathing in 2011.” Geez, people WAKE UP! Why is the American rate of death on the racetrack three times higher than anywhere else in the world?? Take a look at the obvious: The size and surface of your tracks, (racing around tight corners always the same direction), the distance of your races (most are sprints around a single, tight turn) and the permissiveness of race-day medication that ensures virtually every horse is running with a number of approved chemicals in his system. Now I see Santa Anita is considering going back to a dirt track, and some of the same people who are expressing concern over the safety of Zenyatta are cheering the potential dumping of the “plastic” track – which seems to have resulted in far fewer catastrophic injuries than the previous dirt surface. Doesn’t anybody remember grass? You know, the stuff that horses are born on, raised on and on which they learn to gallop? The solutions don’t have to be as difficult as everyone over there seems to make them.
Ironically, Jonathan Sheppard is being praised in the Daily Racing Form for his innovative training methods, unlike anyone has ever seen in America. He actually gallops his horses on grass, on a farm. He doesn’t time his workouts, and some of his horses DON’T EVEN RUN ON LASIX!!! Sounds like everyday training in Europe, except the Lasix part; here, it’s no Lasix – or anything else – allowed.