This is what we call a good old-fashioned snow day. We got hit with freezing rain that turned into a dusting of snow yesterday, it all froze overnight so now it’s impossible to do anything with the horses. They’ll stay in their boxes, get a good brushing and a hot bran mash tonight. And that means tomorrow everyone will have to fasten their seat belts for an energetic ride.
Cocoa, the baby dobermann, is like most kids stuck inside – squirmy and bored. Prof, the wise old basset, is doing his best to put up with her, even though he’d just as soon spend the day sleeping by the fire.
All this gives me the time to do what everybody else is doing: reflect back on the year and set goals for the next one. On the big picture, I’m obsessed with the U.S. racing scene, which looked like maybe, just maybe, might change for the better after years of horrible accidents and a dwindling fan base. I have been a proponent for years of eliminating ALL race-day medication in America, and this year it looked like people were finally waking up to the fact that it might be possible. But no, in the end, it was impossible to close Pandora’s box. Most states banned the use of some steroids, everyone patted themselves on the back and that was that. They couldn’t even go all the way and ban all steroids – certain levels of four are still allowed. Given that, I highly doubt they’ll ever get to the point of banning much else, especially lasix, the root of all evil as far as I’m concerned. I will continue to add my voice to the anti-medication movement in the coming year – I still haven’t learned the wall is harder than my head.
In France, the big threat this year was pressure from Brussels to open the monopoly parimutuel betting system to competition – namely bookmakers. France is fighting, but I don’t know how long they can hold out. If bookies are allowed in, the racing system in France would face a huge threat. As it is now, we have the best return of prize money in Europe, because the PMU system puts 8 percent of the handle back in the sport. In England, bookies return just 1 percent, and racing is struggling. The fight continues into 2009.
On the home front, it’s been a big year, filled with frustration and success, which is the definition of any horse business, really. The biggest step was to leave the Herald Tribune and go professional as a trainer; this next year will be crucial in determining how wise that decision was. Given the health (or lack thereof) of the newspaper business, I don’t regret leaving it, and I’m having a fantastic time in my new adventure. The results haven’t been too shabby, either. I’ve had 34 percent of my horses run in the money this year. There are, of course, the usual hardships that happen to all trainers – you walk over to feed in the morning and find somebody on three legs, you sense a horse just isn’t “right” coming up to race day, you have to crawl up onto a horse’s back even if you’ve come down with the flu the night before. All part of the business.
So my wish list for next year:
- U.S. racing gets its act together, appoints a national governing body and bans all race-day medication.
- France convinces the EU that bookmakers are really not a good idea.
- Good health for the horses, and for me.
- Victories for my current owners…
- which should bring a few new ones to help fill the yard.
Happy New Year to all!