By VIVIAN GRANT FARRELL
I don’t think it would be unfair to say that horse racing is in an ever increasing state of crisis. That means the horses are also.
Racehorses are bred, used and disposed of at an alarming rate. They are drugged, their bodies manipulated in grotesque ways from the moment they are foaled. They are run into the ground until they can no longer perform, breakdown and die on the track or shortly thereafter off of it. Racehorses are “retired” by the thousands via death in a slaughterhouse often as young as two and three years old.
Is horse racing’s modern day conduct and its glaring lack of integrity any worse now than during its earlier days? The short answer is we don’t know. What we do know is that in this day and age you can hide very little of what goes on because of the advent of social media. That means many of horse racing’s many sins are glaringly made public to the masses now as a matter of routine. They do not like what they see. Fans and bettors are abandoning horse racing more and more every day.
During our coverage of US horse racing and its many sins we have looked at the trainers more than just about anyone else in the industry. Integrity it seems is hard if nigh impossible to find among racehorse trainers. In a culture entrenched in cheating, everybody “is doing it” to stay competitive, or so they say.
It may very well be (and we wouldn’t bet against it), that there it not a single trainer left in the US with even a fraction of integrity, especially when it comes to doping. As trainers and their assistants routinely point out, “you have to dope just ‘to stay in the game'”. What about the “boss”? The owner? The ones who employ these trainers? Where are they in all of this?
The late, great Penny Chenery, owner of the heralded and haloed Triple Crown winning hero Secretariat, makes the following observations in an interview with Andrew Cohen for The Atlantic, May 28, 2012.
The title of the article is “Secretariat’s Owner on the Triple Crown and Racing Integrity“. The subtitle is fittingly, “On the eve of Triple Crown drama, Penny Chenery, the grand dame of horse racing, calls out I’ll Have Another’s owner and implores the industry to do better.”
I quote liberally from that article.
A conversation with Chenery begins with the concept of integrity (which in racing is often like morning-line odds — long on speculation, short on specifics). “Our own integrity,” Chenery told me, “is not restricted to horse ownership. If you value yourself as a trustworthy person, then you protect your integrity in whatever you do.” Owning a race horse, she says however, creates the special and specific obligation to behave “in the cleanest possible manner” at all times. This is important, she says, because:
I think people like to believe that horse racing is fixed. I think there’s a little something that’s naughty, that if you know someone you can find out if the fix is in, and I don’t think we should fall for that. Or let that image be true.
From image to reality. I asked Chenery, the greatest Thoroughbred owner of the past half century, whether all horse owners should take more of a role, and therefore absorb more legal and financial responsibility, for ensuring that horse racing is clean, fair, honest, and transparent. Her response was emphatic.
I think owners should be held responsible for their choice of trainers, Chenery says. If they tend to send their horses to ‘dirty’ trainers this should be be a suspension of their right to ownership.
And from the general to the specific. I asked Chenery what she thinks of the connections of I’ll Have Another, including owner Paul Reddam and trainer Doug O’Neill, who last week was given a 45-day suspension in California (conveniently tolled to begin July 1st) for a 2010 doping violation in the Golden State. Her response was so pointed that she felt the need to reiterate immediately afterward that she wanted to be publicly quoted saying this:
I think it is regrettable. And it isn’t the horse’s fault and this is probably a very good horse. I don’t know Mr. Reddam personally but I think he should be embarrassed that the trainer he has chosen does not have a clean record.
Those words of wisdom from the Grand Dame of Thoroughbred horse racing in America shifts the focus where it also should be. These dirty trainers would not be in business if racehorse owners did not employ them.
Andrew Cohen, a fellow at the Brennan Center for Justice, concludes:
The truth is that horse racing isn’t fighting nearly hard enough to achieve the success it says it wants on integrity issues. Penny Chenery knows it. The connections of I’ll Have Another surely know it. And deep down inside the rest of us do, too.
Yes, we do.
FEATURED IMAGE: Secretariat in Retirement. Blood-Horse Library.
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