03/27/2014 2:34PM

Jay Hovdey: Racing can disarm attackers with action


It takes a few days to digest bad news. But the sour stomach persists, courtesy of the putrid video meal served up by assistant trainer Scott Blasi and the People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals, along with their enablers, Steve Asmussen and the New York Times.

The first and only honest reaction to the PETA undercover video revealing unvarnished moments behind the scenes of a high-profile Thoroughbred operation should range from disgust to extreme disgust. How dare they – and pick your “they” – rain down such shameful intimations upon a business populated by so many hard-working, honorable people with abiding concern for both the integrity of the sport and the welfare of its animal athletes?

But then, once the dust of indignation has settled, it becomes clear once again that Thoroughbred racing continues to lay itself wide open to the kind of criticism crudely articulated by the PETA video.

Medications, injections, pharmaceutical supplements – any artificial manipulation of the equine physiology for the purposes of commercial use is going to look terrible when framed by a philosophy that horse racing is an immoral enterprise that should be outlawed, which is PETA’s position. The use of an anonymous, supposedly endangered female undercover source whose face and voice must be altered for her protection lends a theatricality to the video that is undeniably effective.

Blasi adds salt to the mix with rough language that displays both a lack of vocabulary and inspiration from the words of Johnny Carson, who once advised, “Never use a big word when a little filthy one will do.”

But all that is beside the point, and the video, with its tacit validation by the New York Times, is not nearly as important as the reaction to the video from horse racing’s leaders of influence, as well as its headline players. If each and every stable, large and small, turns inward to make certain there is nothing for an undercover operation to uncover, thank you PETA. If the situation accelerates the positive steps made toward regional agreements on medication rules, that will be a good thing. If the reaction to the video stirs racing’s regulators to more rigorous monitoring and surveillance of backstretch activity, bravo.

This reporter also hopes that the PETA video will serve as a cold slap of reality to racing’s leaders who persist in trying to position the game alongside other professional sports with leagues, teams, seasons, and national offices – none of which exist in Thoroughbred racing. Horse racing has never been ready for that kind of prime time, nor for the scrutiny that comes with it. Mega-events like the Kentucky Derby and, to a lesser extent, the Breeders’ Cup only serve to maintain the delusion that Thoroughbred racing has earned a place alongside those sports with similarly spangled championships, rather than accept its rightful identity as a niche endeavor pursued by a passionate core of true believers.

Thoroughbred racing can look around and see plenty of examples of where harsh media exposure of abuses – both real and perceived – can lead. “Blackfish” is a compelling documentary that uses the death of a trainer by one of her orcas at Sea World in San Diego as a backdrop to make a case that these huge, graceful “killer whales” are not by their nature fit to be captive performers, and to continue in the practice amounts to abject cruelty. And yet the whales still perform, at Sea World properties across the land, and business is good.

Then, earlier this month a California state legislator introduced a bill that would prohibit the use of orcas as performers and ban their captive breeding, as well as outlaw the import and export of the whales. I would advise racing’s leaders to pay close attention to the progress of that bill.

In the end, there is always an understandable temptation to attack the messenger, and PETA – with its extreme and provocative tactics – provides a ripe target. Hopefully, the cooler heads among Thoroughbred racing’s advocates will know better than to go down that road.

However, there is an obligation to know the enemy. PETA declared all-out war on horse racing years ago – along with rodeos, circuses, furriers, puppy mills, guide dogs, and the meat, poultry, and egg industries, among others. The core of PETA’s leadership is uncompromising and deeply committed, spearheaded by PETA co-founder Ingrid Newkirk, a 64-year-old, British-born animal welfare advocate whose last will and testament includes the following requests for the disposal of her remains:

“That the ‘meat’ of my body, or a portion thereof, be used for a human barbecue, to remind the world that the meat of a corpse is all flesh, regardless of whether it comes from a human being or another animal, and that flesh foods are not needed.

“That my skin, or a portion thereof, be removed and made into leather products, such as purses, to remind the world that human skin and the skin of other animals is the same and that neither is ‘fabric’ nor needed …

“That one of my eyes be removed, mounted, and delivered to the administrator of the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency as a reminder that PETA will continue to be watching the agency until it stops poisoning and torturing animals in useless and cruel experiments …

“That one of my thumbs be removed, mounted upwards on a plaque, and sent to the person or institution that, in the year of my death or thereabouts, PETA decides has done the most to promote alternatives to the use and abuse of animals in any area of their exploitation.”

You’ll never beat someone willing to be eaten for their cause. Instead, the hard work ahead must focus on reforms that will buffer Thoroughbred racing from being associated with the worst abuses of the animals who give their lives to the business. Most people don’t have a problem with horses being ridden or raced for sport, or even for profit. But whipped, buzzered, drugged, neglected, slaughtered or otherwise treated like disposable commodities – that’s another story.

So thumbs up, Thoroughbred racing. Don’t let PETA get you down. At least the game has something to shoot for.


Pat More than 1 year ago
That was suppose to say "not willing to go in that direction"
Pat More than 1 year ago
The answer is so simple that it defies explanation that the powers to be in the racing community haven't embraced it years ago. And that answer is to get ALL medications out of racing. No horses running on ANY American race track can have even trace levels of medications in their system. Bingo, end of the problem. No more drugged horses. No more games being played trying to fool tract vets and other officials. No more PETA videos like the one we saw this week. A drug free work place is the only answer and if racing is willing to go in that direction then it's only a matter of time until it's looked upon the same way wrestling and roller derby are. Today racing has the choice.
Michael Castellano More than 1 year ago
I've always been a bit guilty for being a racing fan. Of course, the animals become expendable, regardless of the morality of the trainers and owners. In a competitive, take no prisoners sport, winning becomes everything, and clearly things get done that are not animal friendly. The breed is so inbred that it has declined rather drastically over the years, and must be supported by all kinds of things, both legal and otherwise. The stress of racing itself kills many horses, either from catastrophic accidents on the track or from burning out and being unable to race anymore. Yes, racing can be reformed, provided there was a will to do so. But I see none of that on the horizon. Horses can not form a union to help themselves.
RIP Grammar More than 1 year ago
Well, as a thoroughbred trainer who doesn't use drugs on her horses save for Lasix (and that's only if they truly need it because they bleed), I'd love it if the industry would toss out the cheaters that way I can train their horses! We honest and decent trainers should be the ones who thrive in our business not the cheaters.
Ray Sousa More than 1 year ago
What racing needs is to wake up..go natural and kick out all the crooks...its that simple really.
William Kimok More than 1 year ago
Those who keep turning a blind eye and blaming PETA ought to take a look at what happened to greyhound racing in New England when people involved in that business blamed PETA instead of policing their own business.
Sarah Tarvin More than 1 year ago
Jay, I believe the PETA film is the first horse racing film in which you didn’t praise Gary Stevens for his performance. In fact, you never mentioned his cameo. What gives? Usually you’re hurling Oscars at the guy for playing a jockey – an incredible artistic reach.
Quite A Dude More than 1 year ago
Training needs to get back to rest and recovery rather than hammer them, inject them and hammer them again. Lasix either prevents bleeding or is a performance enhancer. If it is both than it needs to be eliminated. Finally, the number of horses ground up on the Triple Crown trail needs to end. Too many horses from these high end TC chasers ruin a lot of horses simply because they are not physically ready to handle the demands of the TC pursuit..
Cover2 More than 1 year ago
THe best message of article was the Cal bill, proposed. Don't know if we needed the graphic examples of the B Hive from the UK. Set all this PETA (which has a big lobby in wash) stuff aside, racing needs salesmen, that can lure the big money owners, has some , but most are on the fence marginable money owners that need the wins to stay above water, keep wolf away from door & make ends meet. Ex: Howard Keck Jr, unlike his dad, doesn't have a nickel invested in horse racing, yet just donated $5Million to USC for a new building ? Can someone sell him a Cal Bred....ya know it pays to own !
MICHAEL More than 1 year ago
If they don't shoot up these weak fragile short-career bleeding sprinters, they couldn't run a lick. The breeders are not going to breed the Secretariats, Forego or the John Henrys. Premium are paid for the fast 1-2 furlongs 2 year olds. So what if they cannot run 10 furlongs or have short careers. The industry does not care. So nothing is really going to happen or change.
Cover2 More than 1 year ago
Funny you mentioned two geldings a one that couldn't reproduce himself ! If they had 1/2 furlong race back then for sale purposes, you can bet all 3 would be in 'em !
mikey More than 1 year ago
The 2 geldings is the product of breeding for the Secretariats, not the quarterhorses wannabes we breed today. When the John Henrys and Foregos went away so did the great races that captured the headlines that made the sport popular and attracted new fans and bettors. You know the Big Cap to the Handicap Triple. Ever wonder why your last HOY were females and a turf miler? DUH. and none ever won an open G1 10f or longer. Keep breeding these quarterhorses wannabes.