A racehorse steps onto the track during training. Image by Clarence Alford.

U.S. horse racing through a glass darkly

So as through a glass, and darkly
The age long strife I see
Where I fought in many guises,
Many names, but always me.

George S. Patton
A racehorse steps onto the track during training. Image by Clarence Alford.
A racehorse steps onto the track for training. Image by Clarence Alford.

In an article by Paul Moran for ESPN he covers the Jockey Club Round Table on Matters Pertaining to Racing recently held in Saratoga.

“There is no opposition to reform and standardization of rules, though making that happen in a disjointed environment is a daunting task,” writes Moran.

Aye, as long as reform is not too real and not too tedious and the environment remains disjointed.

Moran mentions withdrawal periods for legal therapeutic medications proposed by the Jockey Club and declares the anti anti-bleeder Lasix crowd have pretty much lost the day. Not too sure about that, but he is probably right.

Moran then moves on to the plight of the hapless gambler who wagers on horse racing in America.

“Nothing is currently more popular and rare than transparency. Yet, racing is no less opaque than government and other criminal enterprises,” says Moran. Moran hits it right on the nose with the phrase “criminal enterprises”.

I am no lawyer, but it appears to me horse racing defrauds punters by failing to disclose the facts necessary to give them a fair bet. I think most would agree that the rampant doping of racehorses illegal and otherwise occurs across the U.S. virtually every day every where a horse is raced. However, the only notation in racing forms of what drug a racehorse has been given relates to the painkiller Bute and the anti-bleeder medication Lasix given on race day.

The article continues:

In many states even the gelding of a horse is not disclosed to the public and nowhere are most surgical procedures made known. Yet, the sport is supported in the main by gamblers who are placed at a bleak informational disadvantage with the blessing of regulators.

Veterinarians as well as trainers should face the weight of responsibility for violations and suffer identical consequences. A positive should send both into suspension, another area in need of careful reconsideration. How many transgressions will regulators permit? How many Rick Dutrows can the game afford and still expect to be taken seriously?

I believe that day has long since gone that U.S. horse racing can expect to be taken seriously, not only at home but also abroad. They either cannot or will not see it.

Moran suggests a three strike and you are out rule. That sounds reasonable.

However, what about all the appeals horse racing generously provide so that cases drag on for years until it dwindles into nothingness. He also mentions a zero-tolerance posture. How many times do we hear that phrase? Zero-tolerance? As least he calls it for what it is, a posture.

Then this huge continuing fail:

No trainer convicted in the recent rash of positive tests for dermorphin — a painkiller several times more potent than morphine — should ever again be issued a license to train horses anywhere in the United States. At the moment, the punishment in no way fits the crime.

Where are those trainers now? Why, training and racing horses of course, insofar as we can see.

The darkest reflection of all is American horse racing’s blatant disregard for the impact flagrant cheating with drugs and other therapies and practices has on the lives of racehorses. The breakdowns and deaths; young racehorses rushed off to the shed or who land in rescue and rehabilitation centers with compound stress fractures, tendons stretched to near snapping and the arthritic joints of a 20-year old. Or the others who are virtually destroyed by this misuse then shamelessly sent to slaughter, subjected to a grisly death.

To see through a glass — a mirror — darkly is to have an obscure or imperfect vision of reality. When I view the embattled state of U.S. horse racing, darkness is what I clearly see.

Referenced article: Facing the leadership deficit; ESPN Horse Racing Commentary; by Paul Moran; Aug. 14, 2012
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RELATED READING

Ray Paulick takes a different angle. More detail on the dermorphin busts too such as they are which is to say there weren’t any really.

Can Jockey Club reforms overcome ‘confederacy of dunces’?; Paulick Report; Aug. 13, 2012

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