08/17/2016 3:36PM

Hovdey: A shiny Pacific Classic vs. slogans of doom


On Saturday at Del Mar, racing fans will be treated to the best event offered in Southern California since the 2014 Breeders’ Cup Classic at Santa Anita Park when California Chrome, Dortmund, and defending champion Beholder take the field for the 26th running of the $1 million Pacific Classic.

The crowd will be large, no doubt, and the day filled with long lines of shiny, happy people betting their money and consuming mass quantities of fish tacos, kettle corn, and Delmargaritas. The inconveniences, such as they are, should be well camouflaged by an atmosphere of high-stakes competition and golden sunshine, with the occasional ocean breeze blowing straight from the Chamber of Commerce.

Fair warning, though: Once parked in the main lot of the state fairgrounds, Del Mar’s customers must enter the track proper through a gantlet of black-clad protesters representing PETA, the People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals. The protesters carry signs with Madison Avenue hooks (“Racing to the Grave,” “You Bet They Die”). They decry the tally of horses who have died during the current Del Mar meet (13 documented to date, divided between training and racing). They accuse arriving fans of willfully ignoring the carnage. They hand out leaflets that morph Del Mar’s marketing theme of “Cool as Ever” into “Cruel as Ever.”

Did I mention they wear black?

The effect of such protests varies. Local TV gives them a look every once in a while. Track officials are hands-off, ceding jurisdiction to the Fair Board, a state agency. A representative of the state’s attorney general has decided that such demonstrations are allowed access to public property. A racetrack security guard stands by as an observer, ready to call the local sheriff if needed.

An occasional burst of testosterone will flare, with a father taking exception to comments like, “How can you bring children to watch horses die?” For the most part, though, fans ignore the PETA phalanx.

This reporter, obviously having nothing better to do, lingered at the picket line last weekend and engaged some of the demonstrators in conversation.

In many ways, I’ve always envied the true believers – their commitment to a cause, their embrace of a detailed doctrine, their ability to fend off every argument. And let’s face it: Given such issues as medication, aftercare, and slaughter, horse racing provides a group like PETA plenty of grist.

Playing dumb (not a stretch), I was told by demonstrators that horse racing should be banned because the domestication of animals of any kind was a crime against nature. I was told that all horses raced on illegal drugs all of the time because they are all injured.

“California Chrome is racing here next weekend,” I was told by a demonstrator. “Did you know he has been racing on a broken foot – ever since he was 3, when he was stepped on in the race in New York?”

This was news to Art Sherman, and to California Chrome, who has won more than $9 million on that foot, which was badly cut but not broken in the 2014 Belmont Stakes.

“That illustrates the stark difference between PETA on the one hand and the Humane Society of the United States on the other,” said Joe De Francis, the former chairman of the Maryland Jockey Club who heads the National Horse Racing Advisory Council for the HSUS.

“By their very act in soliciting the formation of this council, HSUS has acknowledged that they’re not experts in horse racing and that they want to effect realistic and meaningful reforms,” De Francis said. “Whereas everything that I’ve ever read about PETA, or read what they’ve published themselves on their website, or seen them do leads me to believe that their ultimate goal is to abolish horse racing.”

Del Mar is hardly the first racetrack to be targeted by PETA demonstrations. Protestors descended upon the 2008 Preakness at Pimlico in the wake of the death of Eight Belles in the Derby two weeks earlier. A well-dressed PETA protester disrupted the 2012 Belmont Stakes winner’s-circle ceremony with a sign smuggled past guards. In 2014, PETA bankrolled a mobile billboard to drive around Churchill Downs during Derby week with the message: “Drugs. Breakdowns. Death. Horse racing is a bad bet.”

Now, listen to Humane Society president and chief executive Wayne Pacelle, who was instrumental in calling for the Horse Racing Advisory Council.

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

“I would analogize racing’s issues to the concussion issue in football,” De Francis said. “Football’s initial reaction to try and sweep it under the rug was totally wrong. At this point, it’s not necessary to abolish the sport. But racing does need to try to think as constructively and creatively as it can regarding proactive steps it can take to minimize the danger and make the sport as safe as possible for its human and equine athletes.”

In the end, those who feel Thoroughbred racing is a worthwhile endeavor can view the PETA protests with pride in the protection of First Amendment Constitutional rights. They also can ignore what they hear and look elsewhere for the real work of reforming the sport they love. As De Francis noted: “When your message is grounded in logic and reasonableness and a measured approach, it’s always difficult to get it heard over the din of someone shouting an extremist approach.”

Juvenile_Jim More than 1 year ago
These PETArds are a real headache.  Us thoroughbreds WANT to run...it's what we do.  I hope Del Mar security is paying attention to these guys...  the last thing we need to see is Steve-O scaling the infield big screen... JJ
Randy Baker More than 1 year ago
And yet they continue to ignore the inhumane game that goes on  just south of the border "Cat Juggling"
Chris More than 1 year ago
"I was told by demonstrators that horse racing should be banned because the domestication of animals of any kind was a crime against nature."

In order for it to be a crime against nature, there must be an objective standard that has told us of this law.  I know of none, I read the Bible.  So therefore, this is just her "subjective" opinion.  She's irrational and illogical.
Nicole Arciello More than 1 year ago
17 dead "athletes." How, racing apologists, is this acceptable?

Kenneth R. Wiener More than 1 year ago
You would prefer that no Thoroughbred racehorses be bred for racing, i.e. that the breed developed since 1700 should disappear?  In your view, the world would be better off without the Thoroughbred? 
Chris More than 1 year ago
Why not mention the numerous horses that injure themselves or have to be put down that live on a farm and just run around and step in a hole?
I know the trainer of a horse mentioned in that blog.  He is very up front, never shady, and always cares for his horses.  
james More than 1 year ago
I wish we lived in a perfect world, a Garden of Eden, but we don't. 
In the hierarchy of imperfect things do you really think that horse racing is such an atrocity that you should obsess over its existence?  Think about global disease and starvation.  How about the billion or more humans on earth who live without sufficient access to drinkable water? Sectarian oppression, violence and slaughter of humans?  The issues of "choice" which in the minds of many results in the extermination of human lives?  Discrimination, violence and oppression based on gender? Global climate change? Access to healthcare?  I could go on and probably list a thousand things with greater gravity than the woes associated with horse racing.
When you or the PETA puppets start marching and chirping about racing I wonder how you can in any way decide to devote your time to this issue instead of others.  And in the event that you are a PETA shill, how you can justify the distortions and lies that have come to define PETA itself?
Juvenile_Jim More than 1 year ago
lighten up Nicole... nuf said
Nicole Arciello More than 1 year ago
Bob Dillman More than 1 year ago
The exaggerations, out right lying and entrapment that PETA uses definitely works against them.  They at one time operated the largest pet kill center in the country.  "To get the poor animals off the street."  Steve Coburn did himself and horse racing no favors when he got into bed with PETA and the BCH people.  I guess he just never did get the connection.
Bob Dillman More than 1 year ago
In the end I feel sorry for the guy and his family.  He lost the horse of his dreams.
Frank More than 1 year ago
I'm not a PETA fan -- I'm a horse racing fan...

"I would analogize racing’s issues to the concussion issue in football"

Horse racing just doesnt get it -- to compare a horse that is killed on the track or from a racing injury to a football player that is injured and remains alive and recovers is just disgusting!  Put it this way, if there were 1.2 deaths a day in football there would be no football!

The sport is dead just like the horse that are destroying every day...
Enzo Lentini More than 1 year ago
The purses are bigger than ever ..horses have died ( no they arent killed) for 100 years from injuries.........Tens of thousands of people  have been killed by drunk drivers...should we eliminate cars??

Frank More than 1 year ago
Enzo, Please name just one other sport on the planet where competitors die on an everyday/every weekly basis...
Chris More than 1 year ago
Please tell me how many horses die on farms every week?
Gaye Goodwin More than 1 year ago
You CHOSE to drive a car. The horse does not CHOSE to race.
Joel Firsching More than 1 year ago
Can you give us the reasons why there were 13 severe injuries ?  Why wasnt the track shut down after four injuries occurred ?  Is this where the breeders cup is being held ?
Megan Grant More than 1 year ago
The Breeders' Cup is  being held at Santa Anita.
Joel Firsching More than 1 year ago
Correct.  Next year will be del mar.  Remember how proud anita and del mar were when they found the track surface material ?
Chris More than 1 year ago
Some of your comments are just foolish on this site.  I'm trying to read them and be understanding but instead just SMH.
Eleanor Sniegowski More than 1 year ago
Is Stevens a card carrying Peta member judging by his last ride on Beholder?Please do more than chirp to her down the lane.
Walter More than 1 year ago
I wish PETA can somehow protest hard enough to eliminate the illicit drugs administered to horses.  Yes, thoroughbreds are bred to run, but they don't choose to take drugs.  Drugs are forced on them
lord_at_war More than 1 year ago
What is "illicit"?
Is it "Phenylbutazone" (aka Bute)?  It's a non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drug, which us humans call a "NSAID"- aspirin, Tylenol, Advil, Nuprin, etc.  Maybe Mr. Ed would even ask for it if his knee was sore?

Is it "Furosemide" (aka Lasix)?- Mom had her 2nd heart attack in 2005 and was in a "drug-induced" coma, so she obviously never "chose" to take it.  Meanwhile, it lowered her blood pressure (think EIPH) during the coma, taking the extra strain off her heart, and she recovered to live for another 11 years and counting.

Is it "Clenbuterol"?  I had a friend with asthma/COPD who used it regularly in his inhaler.  When the FDA banned it for human use here in the USA, his condition immediately deteriorated until he died. While his doctor thought it was effective, my friend didn't even know it was a "steroid" until I told him.  Choice?

How about Morphine?  I rolled my car three times (one roll that landed on my left arm), and woke up with a "morphine drip" in my arm.  When I woke up after surgury, I demanded it be removed immediately, because I have addiction problems.  So, I'll give you this one.  But it's also completely "legal" even when doctors do it _against_ your will...

Gaye Goodwin More than 1 year ago
You, your mom, and your friend are human beings - NOT young race horses.
There is no comparison to the PEDs given to 2, 3, & 4 year old horses and your MD's prescriptions.
Chris More than 1 year ago
lol ped's?  You do realize that they test horses.  And its very very very rare that they find any trainer administering "ped's" do any horse.
Frank More than 1 year ago
well said Walter -- I agree.
Rick Proctor More than 1 year ago
Michael...You are right...SMILE