Censored

As I mentioned in my blog about a month ago, I’m doing some side-blogging for the National Thoroughbred Racing Association leading up to the Breeders’ Cup, commenting on the European contenders. It turns out, though, that the folks at that site aren’t too interested in anything that might be controversial, so the following post I wrote for them was deemed unsuitable. In the interest of not wasting my work, here is the post I had offered (and actually, I thought it was pretty toned down compared to what I usually say about these subjects):

Many of the comments flying around the Internet about Sea the Stars and other European contenders for the Breeders’ Cup point up the vast differences between European and American racing, and it usually deteriorates into an “U.S. vs. Them” mentality. And I’ll be the first to put up my hand: I’m a convert to the European way and I’m very quick to defend it. This is in large part because I’m American, and I feel like it would be out of the question to ever be able to train horses in my native country under the current system.

The main difference between the two systems is, of course, medication. I couldn’t agree more with the person who commented (on the NTRA blog) that he was glad Sea the Stars would not have to face the choice of running on Lasix. I, too, was relieved that the Tsui family decided not to come to Santa Anita. In Europe, no race-day medication is allowed, period. No Lasix, no bute, no anything. Unfortunately, when European trainers race in America, many feel they have to use the permitted medications because they’ll be at a disadvantage if they don’t. Some resist, and with success. Pascal Bary won Breeders’ Cup races with Domedriver and Six Perfections and neither raced on medication.

I’ve heard all the American arguments about why horses there “need” to run on drugs. Which brings up another big difference between the two systems: American horses, for the most part, are stabled and trained at the same track where they race, and those tracks are usually located close to major cities and the pollution that comes with them. The tracks are usually quite tight by European standards, not usually more than a mile around, and the horses go through the same routine every day, galloping the same direction around the same tight turns. Most races are short by European standards, so you have horses sprinting around a tight turn, always in the same direction, usually with a shot of bute and lasix to ease the pain. What could go wrong?

In Europe, horses train in rural training centers, galloping on the Newmarket heath or winding through the forests around Chantilly and Maisons-Laffitte. They are trucked to the track on race day, and the track surfaces and distances are varied. Races are run on the straight, left-handed, right-handed and often with rolling terrain. And most of our racing is on the turf, although there are more and more synthetic sand tracks, which many American detractors refer to as “plastic.” The emphasis is on stamina, and 2,400 meters, or a mile and a half, is considered a middle distance race, not a stayers’ contest.

Another difference between the two systems is the U.S. obsession with reducing the sport to a mathematical formula. Timed workouts, track records and speed figures have pretty much removed the actual living horse from the equation. The object seems not to win the race, but to win it by as many lengths as possible and maybe set a track record in the process. Which brings us to the next difference: The use of the whip. I was appalled when I saw the video of Calvin Borel flogging Rachel Alexendra to the finish in the Haskell when clearly the filly had the race won. He would have been stood down for several days in Europe with that performance. Here, the rules say a jockey must give the horse time to respond to the whip before using it again, the number of strikes is limited and the whip hand cannot be raised above the shoulder. Thankfully, the International Federation of Horseracing Authorities agreed recently to crack down on the use of the whip worldwide.

The Federation also urged U.S. racing authorities to consider banning race-day medication at least in Group 1 races. I wish them luck, but closing the Pandora’s Box of pharmaceuticals in the United States will not be easy. The partial steroid ban that most U.S. jurisdictions have enacted over the past two years is a step in the right direction, and the strong European showing at last year’s Breeders’ Cup shows that the field is slowly being leveled. There is a long way to go before America can really be a part of international racing, but I keep hoping for change. Despite the defection of Sea the Stars, I’m hoping for a strong showing from Europe again this year. And I hope that one day I get lucky enough to have a horse good enough to think about bringing to America for the Breeders’ Cup, and that by then, no one will have to face the choice of running on Lasix.

19 Replies to “Censored”

  1. Toned down but not watered down.

    If they don’t want to include this piece, one has to wonder what ever made the NTRA consider asking you to blog on their site in the first place.

  2. Censored is a strong word, and I’m disappointed in the 1st paragraph of this blog post. It was my decision to not forward on this post, not the NTRA, or some shadow figure, it was just me. Because we’ve been charged w/ writing about the upcoming BC, your specific role is to talk about foreigners that may be lining up for the BC, the above post doesn’t discuss possible entrants.

  3. Patrick, surely the fact Gina has been ask to write about the horses AND the point of view, as i understand it, means that comparing the different methods of training that the europeans use is in the job description no? Also if censord is too strong for you i suggest that maybe ‘oops’ may suit you better!!!

  4. Sorry, Patrick, this is not in any way a personal slight at you. I just think the overall tone the NTRA is looking for doesn’t give us much room to write; anyone who knows how to Google can find out which European horses might show up, and considering how slow they are at posting in the first place, my part of their blog would be the last place one would look if you wanted to find out if Sea the Stars had retired or not. Seems a point of view is what a blog is all about.

  5. Interesting discussion points for sure. There are three BC W&YI races at Woodbine on Saturday. Many of the euro shippers are taking advantage of first-time Lasix.

    As a handicapper, I highlight the FTL in yellow on the Form and figure it’s a bonus. I’d like to hear more on your thoughts about meds and their benefits.

    As for the whipping issue. The rules have changed here at Woodbine – for the better – and I think it will make life better for the horses. Why whip a winner? Why throttle an also ran?

    Always an interesting read!

    Keith-TripleDeadHeat

  6. For me, learning about the differences between U.S. and Euro racing is fundamental, whether I’m looking at BC or Arlington Million Day racing.
    I enjoyed reading this, and can’t think of a more appropriate word than censored for the title.

    The retirement of Sea The Stars is BC news to me. Since he’s out, alot changes. For whoever does shows up, horses and jockeys alike, I want to understand the role of first time lasix, the 1 1/2 mile as a middle or route distance, the rules for using the whip, and the conditioning.

    I realize the NTRA is not a library, but the American Library Associtation defines censorship in relation to challenges as:

    A change in the access status of material, based on the content of the work and made by a governing authority or its representatives. Such changes include exclusion, restriction, removal, or age/grade level changes.

  7. Great thought provoking ideas Gina.

    It would seem wise for the US racing industry to look at european training methods and medication rules. For one, I’d love to know the differences in rate of breakdowns between US and european horses. Many US tracks installed polytrack but it doesn’t seem to be the panacia some thought. Instead of poly, maybe training and medication changes are more helpful?? Of course, Barbaro was trained at Fair Hill in a more european style regimen. Regardless, we should be doing all we can to prevent equine (and human) injuries on the track.

    “Hay, oats, and water” will be better for the horses AND the bettors.

  8. From my personal experience, I know that the NTRA censors reader comments, so I’m not the least bit surprised that they wanted no part of this piece. I believe this was relevant to the Breeders’ Cup European entrants and I’m glad she had an outlet for her work that allowed me to read it. Like many, I’m sick and tired of the NTRA’s party line that all is well and the future is bright. Nothing could be further from the truth.

  9. It does not surprise me that NTRA has censored your writing. I have written letters to various publications including The Blood-Horse and the Thoroughbred Times which were published. However, the letters were not published without an editor taking his black marker and scratching through a phrase or words he/she thought shouldn’t be published. I am not sure who they thought they were protecting by editing my letters, but I felt a sense of outrage that someone thought my views/opinions could not be published. I did not write anything nasty or libelous (I work in a law office). So, Gina, if NTRA doesn’t want to hear the truth, then continue your writing here. It will be heard.

  10. A thought provoking, interesting piece — if the NTRA (or whoever their gatekeeper might be) sees this as potentially controversial then they need to get a clue. Unfortunately, the NTRA (and its minions) are a PR firm who hurt more than help the cause they are supposedly supporting. Those who spend their time and money maintaining the status quo (like the NTRA) should look in the mirror if they want to figure out what is wrong with racing.

  11. Brava! This may be the first time I’ve ever responded to a blog post, but I feel obligated to thank you for publishing these thoughts on medication, whipping and training methods. I had begun to feel I was the only one on earth who shared them.

    I cannot tell you how frustrating it is to express similar sentiment locally, only to be labelled some sort of traitor. The attitude seems to be, “U.S. Racing: love it or leave it!”

    Let’s face it – a whole lot of people are doing the latter.

    What is so treasonous about protecting the health of the equine athletes in our care? Can anyone seriously argue that short-circuiting a horse’s own sense of self-preservation with drugs is a good thing? And how about putting on a fair contest? Forget about horse, jockey and trainer stats – the most useful ones to have these days would be those of the pharmacists.

    We don’t have to do everything exactly as they do in Europe, but we have undeniably lost our way in some key areas. If we aren’t willing to make changes ourselves, they will be made for us, perhaps eventually in the elimination of the sport entirely here. Yes, it can happen.

    It’s a shame this article won’t be posted On the NTRA site, or published in The Blood-Horse, Thoroughbred Times, Daily Racing Form and every other widely-read U.S. racing publication. Your thoughts here need to find a larger audience.

  12. I have written a number of things which have been refused to be published or radically changed, for one reason or another; so this attitude of fear is not unusual.
    Patrick; just because you take the responsibility for refusing Gina’s piece and not the NTRA , doesn’t really change anything. Everything she said is justified in the interest of a cleaner horseracing industry for all and sundry. as you should realise; only too well.
    Using the excuse that contributers had a limited brief to talk about entries for the Breeders Cup races, is hardly after about one or two articles; going to stretch the imagination for creativity, or interest readers a great deal.
    Obviously, it shows when someone strays off limits, you unfortunately didn’t have the guts to be counted, being obviously more concerned about possible consequences for yourself through any NTRA backlash. If so this has backfired in a big way, as Gina quite rightly published the piece on her web site, for all the world to see anyway.

  13. I feel you fellow American. I did a research study, an “independent” research study, on Behavioral Overcompensations and the use of Lasix, I sent it to the NTRA, and other outlets. Nothing, of course, was ever come of it. But I invite you to visit my Thomas Herding Technique website, and find this position paper in the research/giving back area. You may find it interesting….

  14. Gina, Good and interesting work, as usual. I would, however, take slight exception to your evaluation of medication in Europe. Although it is illegal to race on anything, there are at least some trainers who use some drugs for training, particularly bute. There are at least a few trainers overseas who have strayed into other medications, sometimes inadvertently, that ran afoul of the authorities and received bans for the use. If only our situation in the States were as straightforward … now that the vet is out of the bottle.
    Well done,
    Frank.

  15. Thanks for your comments. I think I belong in Europe. Except for Rachel and Einstein I don’t have a single American based horse that I’m rooting for. It’s the European horses that I follow.

    As for Calvin Borel, I think he’s caught in Jess Jackson’s “history making” obcession. I’d ask Jess to look at Yeats and Ouija Board. Losing didn’t dull the love or their historical impact.

    As for the NTRA, their reaction is just another example of what’s wrong with racing.

  16. Ummm…let’s see if I understand. The International Invasion made a significant purse withdrawel on the last BC. And your (Gina) submission wasn’t deamed publishable/relevant by Patrick/NTRA. What a giggle. I guess we’ll just have to wait and SEA (yeah, he ain’t coming…but others are). I think the results will confirm what you say, Gina. Too bad the “head in the sand” gang refuses to appreciate the reality you illuminate. Safe race to all and may the best horse win.

  17. Right or wrong, I think your opinion piece should have been at the NTRA site. The whole idea of having bloggers write at any “establishment” site is to get a diversity of opinions. I would think the NTRA would appreciate the differing opinions and the traffic that disention brings.

    Hay Oats and Water. I’m an American race fan and I love the dirt and I’m unconvinced that synthetic tracks are the right answer. All that said, I love the turf races, I love the difference in training methods between the States and Europe, I love the European zero tolerance on race day drugs, and I could agree more with the whipping opinions. I’m saddened that our tracks have become a good excuse to have video slots.

  18. That was censorship. Racing is dying here in the US and the actors in the industry cannot face the facts, get their act together to do something about. Shortsightedness and greed.

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