03/23/2014 11:53AM

Weekend Notes


The PETA video released Thursday alleging mistreatment of horses by trainer Steve Asmussen and assistant Scott Blasi, who was relieved of his duties Saturday, continues to be a firestorm in U. S. thoroughbred racing. Everyone has an opinion about it, and here are a few of my thoughts:

Even when you consider the bias of the source, and even when you consider that the video was edited down to nine minutes from over seven hours of footage, meaning much of what appeared in it was likely taken out of context to further an agenda, the video still managed to shock. It raised issues that require a coordinated, comprehensive, intelligent response from the industry’s most important organizations. And that is cause for worry, because as anyone who has been around the game for a while knows, pulling together in the same direction for the greater good is not in the DNA of racing’s alphabet organizations. Moreover, the response not only has to be meaningful, it must be timely. The longer it takes the industry to respond to the issues raised, the longer PETA controls the discussion, and the deeper the hole might get.

It should go without saying that despite what this video depicts, the vast majority of people involved in racing, whether on the backside, frontside, in the stands, or at a simulcast facility, harbor no ill will towards the horse. Some are more passionate about thoroughbred welfare than others. But an overwhelming number people involved in the game understand, sometimes even only intuitively, that a healthy, happy horse is best for all. Simply put, those kind of horses will be more effective on the race track, which is good for the owner, the trainer, the jockey, and the bettor.

That said, one thing I hope doesn’t happen in the fallout from this is that the concerns for the well being of the racehorse overshadows what should be the equally important concern for the well being of the horseplayer. Horseplayers have it hard enough with onerous takeout rates and unappealingly short fields, to name just two things. It is criminal to continue to burden horseplayers with overmedicated, or severely unsound, or buzzered horses, too.

Why is this important? I have mentioned it many times over the years, but it bears repeating again now. Without horseplayers, and the betting dollars we wager, thoroughbred racing as we know it would not exist. Even in this day of casino subsidies, the money we wager still provides through pari-mutuel takeout most of the capital for tracks to be built and/or maintained, and most importantly, provides most of the funding for purses. It is horseplayer-funded purses that offer the incentive for owners to own, for trainers to train, for jockeys to ride, and for breeders to breed. If you took away what horseplayers contribute to this game and purses fell by 75 to 90 percent, if not more, how many owners and breeders would still want to play? This is why concern for the bettor is of paramount importance as well.

One final note on this: Having seen some of the visceral internet reaction to this matter, I have never been more grateful to live in a country with due process. Everyone targeted in the PETA video might well be guilty of some heinous acts. However, no one has had their day in court yet. In this country, you are innocent until proven guilty. It wouldn’t surprise me if some of those screaming the loudest for blood right now would be complaining even more loudly if they were ever denied their right to due process.

Look, I would love to own We Miss Artie. When he got his nose down just in time to win a three-horse photo in Saturday’s Spiral Stakes at Turfway, he boosted his career earnings to over $600,000. But We Miss Artie’s two career stakes wins (he also won the Breeders’ Futurity at Keeneland last fall) came in his only two starts on Polytrack. I’m not at all comfortable with the fact that We Miss Artie now has enough points to guarantee a start in the Kentucky Derby, or with a point system that assigns the same value to a penultimate Triple Crown prep on Polytrack as one on dirt. After all, We Miss Artie has made three starts on dirt, and was soundly beaten in all of them.

And yes, I do understand Animal Kingdom won the Spiral three years ago and went on to win the Derby. But We Miss Artie is no Animal Kingdom. Just compare their two Spiral performances.

I know they were battling it out in only a Grade 3 race, but the Godolphin Racing owned pair of Romansh and Long River, the one-two finishers in Saturday’s Excelsior at Aqueduct, are quality horses. I think they can be solid Grade 2-type performers this year, and might even make noise if they find a relatively soft Grade 1. That won’t be easy, however. There is a lot of quality at the top of the handicap division right now.