11/30/2016 3:36PM

Hovdey: Battle over slaughter rejoined at symposium


There will be something for everyone at the various attractions of the Global Symposium on Gaming & Racing early next week in Tucson, Ariz., where industry leaders are gathering to gnaw on the thorny issues of the sport and run up a tab.

I would pay to hear Bill Nack and Tim Layden provide a guided tour through the history of horse racing’s coverage in Sports Illustrated on Tuesday afternoon, as long as they invoke the names of Jack Mann, William Leggett, Frank DeFord, Gary Smith, Whitney Tower, and even William Faulkner, whose report on the 1955 Kentucky Derby that graced the pages of SI was a lot easier read than “Absalom, Absalom!”

Earlier on Tuesday, Steve Byk will come out from behind his “At the Races” radio microphone to moderate a panel featuring, among others, the intellectual stylings of Peter Rotondo of the Breeders’ Cup and Amy Zimmerman of the Stronach Group. They are always worthy of attention, even if the subject is the well-worn “Racing’s Identity Crisis,” which has been pretty much been analyzed to death.

Tuesday’s conference agenda also includes a panel entitled “Bridging the Horseracing-Academic Divide,” which will bring together a trio of Ph.D.’s discussing ways to “dispel an ancient disconnect where industry decision-makers have long relied on experience and heuristics while lamenting the dearth of relevant academic insight.” Whatever that means, it’s about time.

For fun and games, who would want to miss “Best Practices at the Test Barn: Chain of Custody and Operating Efficiency,” moderated by Steve Koch of the NTRA’s Safety and Integrity Alliance. But seriously, of all the things that can go wrong at the racetrack, the test barn is one place perfection should be the standard.

“Making Smart Data Sexy” should pack the room, especially if the rumor is true that Kate Upton and Ashton Kucher will be featured on video doping out the fifth race from Mahoning Valley, in real time, by a pool. Or not.

In fact, there will be plenty of talk about punting, playing, stepping up, having a flutter. Some years ago the racing establishment decided that “wagering” sounded better than “gambling,” and “gaming” was preferred above all. Fine, let them have their way with the language. Whatever it’s called, several conference panels will address the issue from a variety of angles, while audience members feel free to access their online accounts.

The conference sponsors have for the most part assembled a solid cast whose messages will be clear and forthright. I would be wary, however, of some of the views presented by the intended speakers late Wednesday morning for “The Animal Rights Agenda: An Issue That No Longer Can Be Ignored.”

One of them is Marsha Kelly, founder of the obviously eponymous MSK Ventures of St. Paul, Minn., whose company portfolio includes media relations for Native American casino interests and greyhound racing groups. Among the services offered by MSK is crisis management, which makes Kelly valuable to horse racing interests who worry more about image rather than the substance of issues affecting the sport’s image. (Note: There is no panel topic dealing with horse welfare.)

The other panelist is Patti Strand, identified as the executive director and founder of the National Animal Interest Alliance. The NAIA is essentially an anti-PETA group (not necessarily a bad thing) which among its policy positions advocates equine slaughter as a legally regulated industry in the U.S.

Among NAIA’s targets is the Humane Society of the United States, which has entered into a promising partnership with the Thoroughbred industry through the Humane Society’s newly created Horse Racing Advisory Council, led by former racetrack owner Joe De Francis.

“We’re not against racing,” Humane Society president Wayne Pacelle has said. “We want it done well and humanely.”

There are a number of animal rights organizations that will settle for nothing less than a ban on horse racing, along with many other forms of animal domestication, and ignoring them is certainly a viable option. I happen to think that Don Draper’s advice – “If you don’t like what is being said, then change the conversation” – is a viable approach to extreme positions. Media specialists like Kelly know how to play that game.

However, the NAIA’s pro-slaughter position has no place at a convocation of horse racing leaders, unless it is included to incite rabid opposition. NAIA refers to horse slaughter as “humane processing” – documentation to the contrary – and insists that a resumption of the slaughter industry would prevent the imagined plague of unwanted horses. Euthanasia may be humane. But commercial slaughter? Not so much.

NAIA even invokes the slippery slope argument, warning that the meat police will be coming for your quarter-pounders.

“Removing horses from the classification of livestock will start a domino effect and set a precedent that will allow animal rights groups to work toward reclassifying of other kinds of animals used for food or human comfort,” contended an article from the NAIA web site opposing anti-slaughter legislation.

“Horsemeat is popular in many European countries because it is almost devoid of fat, very low in cholesterol and high in iron,” the NAIA article went on. “Unlike other meats, the older the horses, the more tender the meat because when horses age muscle fiber breaks down, making it tender.”

Hopefully someone at the conference will call out Strand on NAIA’s horse slaughter position. After which lunch will be served.