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.

Joseph More than 1 year ago
I like the article. I tend to agree with one person who commented 'Business will go on as usual'. Sad but more than likely true. How ever, total handle will continue to fall as a lot of us will lose patience, interest, and enough money to either cut back or out right quit going to the track(s).
AllanW More than 1 year ago
I like the Jeff Gural approach. no day in court. if he finds out that something is wrong he tosses the offenders off the grounds. no appeals; no nothing
Denise Mosimann More than 1 year ago
I am the typical racing fan that supports the sport and this is what I want: 1. National governing body to represent ALL horse racing in the USA with the authority of true punishment, not a slap on the wrist. 2. Adopt strict rules...How hard is it to copy the Hong Kong program??? WE deserve an fair playing field for all. I work hard for my money. 3. ZERO tolerance for drugs and cheaters, whether they are trainers, owners, track workers or vets. No 3 strikes and your out policy, 1 violation and you are permanently banned from the industry....better yet you get jail time!
Héctor Lebrón More than 1 year ago
Mike, there's no perfect system to determine who runs in the Derby. There are flaws in all of them. Personally, I prefer the original system that allowed Cañonero II to run and win!
Bill Kaup More than 1 year ago
Well, it's been awhile since this piece was written and I have yet to hear a response from anybody in the sport regarding this situation. Not good. Does anyone realize just how seriously the damage done to the sport is in the eyes of the general public?? As you said , this demands a concerted honest response from the sports' leaders - whoever they may be.
MICHAEL More than 1 year ago
NOTHING WILL CHANGE and it will be business as usual.
Senor Enrico More than 1 year ago
What PETA is doing is simply bringing out that horse racing in the US can't be trusted. Gary Stevens and DW Lukas are laughing about buzzers. For years I saw something suspicious and I want everyone with an open mind to look at it and then see if suspicion is warranted. Take a look at a youtube video of the 1995 Kentucky Derby. The winner was Thunder Gulch who was ridden by Gary Stevens and trained by DW Lukas. After the race Stevens starts waving his whip because of emotion. Pay Day passes by and Stevens hands him something. Please use slow motion replay and pause. Look closely and tell me with an objective mind if it doesn't look like he handed him something? Maybe a buzzer?
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
I have watched this over and over and passed it onto horse racing friends. they all got the WTF same response. It's very clear that something was passed. It comes at 12:10 of the ABC TV coverage posted on youtube. The video starts off with Jim McKay. Pat Day extends his OPEN BARE hand. Gary Stevens then slaps Pat Days hand. What is left is a black object about 4-6". Do this frame by frame. Andrew Beyer stated that after the investigations were done that it was decided that it was nothing more than a "SHADOW" or an "OPTICAL ILLUSION" Thanks Senor for initiating this.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
The problem is not whether a buzzer is used or not. THE PROBLEM IS THE CONSTANT PERCEPTION THAT THIS INDUSTRY CONTINUE TO CHEAT AND NOTHING IS BEING DONE ABOUT IT. WHETHER IT IS DRUGS OR WHATEVER. It does not matter whether the majority of the participants are honest or hardworking.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
I agree with the perception angle. It gives the industry a black eye because there are cheaters. It doesn't mean all are cheaters. The industry needs to work hard to cull the cheaters in a very aggressive transparent manor. If you cheat, there will be major consequences. They need to make the consequences significantly large enough to deter cheaters. Once that is in place and the cheaters are culled then the industry can grow again. Even the breeding would make a significant step in the right direction because milers with drugs in them would no longer have the advantage over long distance type horses who could run clean. Everyone could start to run clean. Horses health and lives would take a step forward. The emphasis would be off the early speed horses who go forever with drugs in them. The emphasis could now be placed on the better breeds. We might even see the champion 2 year olds turn out to be champion 3 yr olds.
Martha Cantarini More than 1 year ago
Do you really think these top riders are going to risk being ruled off for life by doing that. in a race like that. You are crazy!
Eugene Fletcher More than 1 year ago
Has anyone heard any news of Garrett Gomez...is he planning to return to riding....still fighting substances issues???..would love some info if its out there to hear...
Matthew Hood More than 1 year ago
The video was not as bad as I thought it would be. Stuff I think most fans knew went on anyways. Why do we get so emotional over one animal compared to another. People are up in arms over a horse with a bad foot or another getting injected? Stuff 10 times worse happens on industrial agriculture everyday and yet you all still eat dinner every night.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
I guess you do not gamble on horses!!
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
and this is exactly what PETA is trying to bring to light. This is only a stepping stone to the 10 times worse stuff you state. You think this is all about 1 animal? PETA is taking aim at the obvious in hopes of uprooting the rest.
Mitchell Schuman More than 1 year ago
On the other hand, it's nice to try to collect the dead money that will get bet on We Miss Artie on Derby day, similar to the opportunities presented by the Ramsey vanity Kitten horses that seem to make their way into the Derby annually.
M More than 1 year ago
The Wood Memorial procedures being reported right now on Bloodhorse sure look like a step in the right direction. Note the public reporting of recent medications/vet treatments (updated daily). It will be interesting to how and if these are significant in the handicapping process. The monitoring and testing also look to be welcome improvements. This should be the norm for major races and as they learn and streamline the procedures, these type of safeguards could eventually trickle down to all races.