03/29/2007 12:00AM

Good news on the anti-slaughter front

Email

ARCADIA, Calif. - In the spirit of being both fair and reasonably balanced, the following items run the gamut of good news to bad. The

reader has the final say.

* For those who think horse slaughter is a good idea, it was probably bad news Wednesday when a U.S. district court judge in Washington, D.C., took the Department of Agriculture to the woodshed over its failure to conduct an environmental impact review before allowing slaughterhouses to use private inspectors to stay in business.

Last year, Congress overwhelmingly passed legislation to de-fund slaughterhouse inspections, which would have effectively ended the practice for the three operating abattoirs - two in Texas and one in Illinois. In its wisdom, the Bush administration's USDA cooked up the private inspection scheme - using moonlighting federal inspectors - which effectively kept the plants operating.

The Texas slaughterhouses were recently shut down because a Texas court finally had the spine to uphold a Texas state law, but the Illinois plant was still humming along until Judge Colleen Kollar-Kotelly held that the USDA actually violated the National Environmental Policy Act. But what would she know? She's only spent the last few years considering cases involving Microsoft, Guantanamo detainees, and warrantless wiretaps by the National Security Agency.

It would be good news if the judge's ruling marked the official end of American tolerance for horse slaughter. Unfortunately, there still needs to be a tightening of laws that forbid transport of U.S. horses to Canada and Mexico for legal slaughter in those countries.

* There is a good reason to go to Santa Anita Park on Saturday, and not just to watch Racketeer, Neko Bay, and four other solid citizens run for $100,000 in the Tokyo City Cup.

In what has become one of Santa Anita's most popular attractions - right up there with the bikini contest on Sunshine Millions Day - a Los Angeles based troupe of taiko drummers will perform near the winner's circle during the afternoon.

There will also be a variety of Japanese cultural displays, including origami, karate, kado (flower arranging), and military horsemanship. But it is those taiko dudes who always steal the show.

* Fans of jockey Danny Sorenson are shaking their heads again and moaning, "Why him?" The 49-year-old journeyman fractured the top of his right femur, just below the ball of the hip socket, in a freak fall last Saturday morning at Hollywood Park. Two rods and a set screw were required to repair the fracture.

"I was on my way back to the barn on a nice horse I'd just worked for Cliff Sise," Sorenson said a few days and one surgery later. "Somebody came around the corner of a barn and spooked him. He ducked left, got off the dirt path onto the paved road, and then started slipping around. That's when I lost my balance and came off. I landed on the curb separating the dirt from the concrete, with my hip taking the full force of the blow."

A clinical review of Sorenson's horse-related injuries would fill an issue of the New England Journal of Medicine. The litany begins with a badly fractured ankle during match racing as a teenager (the leg was improperly set and developed a blood clot) and reached a spectacular climax in the 1991 Matriarch Stakes at Hollywood Park when his mount, Campagnarde, clipped heels and fell near the finish. Sorenson was flung forward and skidded along the turf, fracturing a thumb and damaging the ligaments in his right ankle.

There have been several others since, each time interrupting a good run in a career that never seems to catch a decent break. At the current meet, Sorenson had won with 9 of 96 mounts, hitting the board in 23 other starts. It's safe to say that his horses regularly have been outrunning their odds.

But now he's down again, for an indeterminate time, although with Sorenson it is always safe to bet on the under in predicting a comeback. While on the sidelines, he will continue to advocate for jockey safety issues - for several years he has pointed out the dangers of paved roads in stable areas - because no matter how serious the damage, Sorenson's outlook never seems to change.

"Science needs guinea pigs," Sorenson said. "They've got to test what works and what doesn't. I'm sore, of course. People have different thoughts on how you're supposed to respond to these things. But you know me. If I ain't dead - which I wouldn't have much response to at all - I guess I'm fine."

* Finally, it was very bad news to hear of the death last week of Peter Whiting, the straightforward Englishman who owned The Anvil Ranch in Solvang, at the heart of California's richest Thoroughbred breeding grounds. He was 76.

Still, the memories are good. The Anvil was a respected sales consignor and the kind of place a lot of California owners sought to raise their runners. An all-around horseman, Whiting even could strap on the farrier's apron and shape a young colt's foot to perfection. Whiting and his wife, Judy, retired to the Northern California town of Fort Bragg in 1991.

"Peter was diagnosed with prostate cancer several years ago," Judy Whiting said. "Fortunately, some of his friends from the Thoroughbred world were able to visit him for a while and say goodbye."