The March 25, 2012 edition of the New York Times carried a multi-page story detailing horrendous lack of oversight at America’s racetracks, and indicted the horse racing industry for allowing greed to overtake common sense and common humanity, placing the lives of horses and riders at risk every day.
Although it is impossible to disagree that there are problems in America’s racing industry, reaction to this article is divided, in part, as horsewoman Melinda Rice Moss writes below, because there is simply no mention of the men and women doing the right thing with their horses; according to the New York Times, it’s all bad news. And that, she maintains, is an annual rite of spring.
I am a ninth generation Saddle Fitter, but more importantly, my family owned racehorses and I grew up on the Maryland tracks. I worked as an exercise rider, groom, you name it. I even had an exercise rider’s license at Bowie before I had a driver’s license. Throughout my adult life I have stayed in the Thoroughbred racing business in one form or another. In 2009 I moved to NY to be with my fiance, Dr. Bernardo Mongil, DVM, a 4th generation horseman; at Monhill Farm we stand stallions; breed, raise, race and train Thoroughbreds. One look at our website and you will understand that we are the die-hards who always try to do right by all our horses, even retiring them sound and placing them in homes for little or no money after their race careers.
In a nutshell, here is my opinion on the NY Times Article:
Does there need to be better regulations and stiffer penalties in horse racing in the U.S.? Absolutely. Even the racetrack vets should be held more accountable, as they often see and treat many of the horses not just on race day, but also for pre-race checks. I agree, with the influx of slots and casinos there has been an increase of a lesser class of horse running for higher purse money, whereas before the slots were introduced those same horses may have been retired.
The money from the casinos that goes back to funding the racetracks needs to be better distributed with some sort of financial program(s) set aside for retirement of ex-racehorses (a legit, regulated one—which by the way is in the works, or so I hear), better drug testing and research, etc. If you keep up with the racing industry publications, these are the same topics that have been discussed for many years.
Thoroughbred racing used to be “Old” Money, a “Sport of Kings” where the elite participated and only the best of the best competed. Unfortunately, in the last fifty years racing has fallen behind the rest of the major American sports (NASCAR, football, baseball, etc). For many, many years Thoroughbred racing refused to accept sponsorships (a big mistake compared to what all other major sports have done), and so since the late 1980’s, the sport has gone through a major downturn, and had all but died out, until the installation of slots came along; hence the many new problems with illegal medications, trying to “pump” up the horses to make them more competitive, creating an even bigger problem as the article speaks of.
However, as in every sport there are the good, the bad, and the downright lowlifes. It seems that every year about this time—Spring, when all the big money races and the Triple Crown Trail come up—there is someone (often times PETA and some so-called “rescue” organizations, as well as the journalists trying to make waves) that come out with new “news & stats” trying to knock down the sport. It seems to me that in that five-page article there was more negativity about the sport than an attempt to create awareness of the big picture of racing.
As my mom used to say: “Bad news travels ten times faster than good news!” The media always latches on to the tragedies, and not just in horse racing. What about all the great every-day feel-good stories on the race track (or in the world in general)? We don’t often hear about those types of stories. Rarely does the media recognize the Breeders/Owners/Trainers and all the staff behind the scenes that care for the not-so-sound horses, or those that just need extra TLC; people (even grooms and riders) who spend their hard-earned money, even taking food off their own table, to care for a horse that needs extra care, in order to be rehabilitate it for a second career after the races or just for retirement. Not every race horse breaks down, gets destroyed by uncaring trainers or owners, and/or gets “dumped next to an old toilet in a junkyard” as the article so pointedly stated.
Bernardo (who is also an equine vet) is a good example of an Owner/Breeder that truly tries to retire his horses sound for second careers, refuses to race a horse that is unsound, and always tries to do right by the horse. My friend Robin, whom you met via the Retired Racehorse Trainer Challenge, does the same. She also follows her horses (as Bernardo does) after their careers. There are just as many GOOD Breeders/Owners/Trainers for every bad one the media talks about. I honestly can name more “Good” people in the industry than “Bad”. It is we “die-hards” who truly love our horses and do right by them, which is why I am such an advocate for the racehorse. Most racehorses are treated better than the average backyard or lesson horse.
These types of articles and the people that try to knock racing down really aggravate me. What Thoroughbred racing needs now is a new generation of Owners/Breeders/Trainers that understand and support racing, and the horses, for what it is, and a commitment to help better regulate it.
What some readers may not know is that the exact same situations (horses that break down, are mistreated, dumped at slaughter houses, or unsound, or horses with severe training issues are passed on to uneducated or unsuspecting “new” owners) are very common among all the other equestrian sports—the Western Show/Reining Quarter Horses, the jumpers, the Eventers, the Dressage horses, it happens everywhere! Show horses snap a leg while cantering in a show ring, or step in a groundhog hole with or without a rider. The reality of dealing with horses, is that accidents happen all the time. The difference is that other equestrian sports don’t have anywhere near the same regulations or penalties, nor do they get the same media attention, as horse racing.
How does the old saying go? Believe half of what you read and all of what you see?