03/20/2008 11:00PM

Letters to the Editor


Welfare summit failed to address life after racing

While reading a recent news release detailing the results of The Jockey Club's Welfare and Safety Summit and the March 20 Racing Form article "Summit calls for collection of surface data," I couldn't help notice the glaring absence of any mention of what we as an industry are doing to address the single most important welfare issue our Thoroughbred athletes face today: their humane care and treatment once their careers at the track are over.

While I'm excited and hopeful to hear news that the industry is taking a proactive course in order to address the health, safety, and soundness issues of horses while they are racing, I am dumbfounded as to how a "summit" on the welfare and safety of the racehorse could be held with no course of action having been outlined to address what becomes of the horses no longer racing.

It left me wondering just who the "62 racing officials and scientists" who were present at the summit are, and if they have any idea whatsoever of the worries and concerns those of us out here in the foaling barns, lay-up farms, and backstretch shed rows, who love and nurture these horses on a daily basis.

Do they have even the foggiest idea of what it is like to agonize over the thought of what one day might become of these incredible animals who we raise, pamper, and spend our every waking moment caring for? Sadly, given the absence of any mention of a task force having been formed to address this issue, it would appear that the industry clearly does not care what happens to our horses once they can no longer race.

If those involved in this conference really want to learn what welfare issues concern our horses the most, I suggest that they need only take a trip to their local equine auction and wander over to the "kill pens." Take a good look at the once-pampered, loved, and cared-for Thoroughbreds as they languish in misery and terror, having been abandoned individually by their human connections, and collectively by the racing industry.

Gail Vacca - Wilmington, Ill.

A champion's fate must be a reminder

Something I noticed about the action plans released by The Jockey Club's Welfare and Safety Summit was that no mention was made of ending the slaughter of racehorses or full funding of Thoroughbred adoption or retirement programs.

It leads me to wonder if they have forgotten about Ferdinand, winner of the 1986 Kentucky Derby, 1987 Breeders' Cup Classic, and 1987 Eclipse Award as Horse of the Year.

When news broke that Ferdinand had been butchered in a Japanese slaughterhouse in 2002 with no fanfare or notification of his previous owners, it sent a shock wave through the entire Thoroughbred world.

That shock wave resulted in two things: a voluntary per-race charge called the "Ferdinand Fee" that funnels revenue to Thoroughbred retirement charities and increased efforts to promote passage of the American Horse Slaughter Prevention Act.

Where has the Thoroughbred industry's support for these initiatives gone? These issues certainly haven't gone away.

The Thoroughbred industry would do well to remember its commitment to the memory of Ferdinand and all of the other Thoroughbreds whose lives ended in a similar way and do all that it can to ensure the American Horse Slaughter Prevention Act becomes law.

Duane L. Burright, Jr. - Malibu, Calif.

Memories of Wheeler bring back the best

Reading Jay Hovdey's March 20 column, "Hall decision spans two eras," caused some great memories to come flowing back to me.

From the year 1955 into early 1957, I was a groom for Bob Wheeler. I was the groom for the outstanding filly Miss Todd and was the first to rub Old Pueblo. I was Old Pueblo's groom from the time J. Rukin Jelks bought him at the Del Mar sale in 1956 until late spring of 1957, including his first race at Santa Anita, which he won by eight lengths going three-eighths of a mile. At that time I went to Caliente and started my own training career.

Well, now I'm 72 and have been training for 51 years, and in over half a century of being around the racetrack, I've been lucky to have known a few trainers who separated themselves from the pack when it came to the conditioning of a racehorse. Of this few - and when you're talking about this type of trainer, it's been just a few - Bob Wheeler stands alone. Horse-whisperer, gifted, a natural - I'm not capable of finding the words to give justice to my feelings about the man.

I'm thinking this is true of a wide variety of occupations in life, but when you're privileged to that rare opportunity to spend some time around greatness, you know it. To be able to observe Bob Wheeler around a horse was an amazing experience. Not only his natural instinct of knowing how much to do or not do in training a horse, but to see his hands-on handling of a horse, was pure magic. I never saw him get excited or rough with a horse.

I know I'll never have to be concerned with getting in the Hall of Fame myself, but if anyone were ever to pay me the ultimate compliment that a trainer could hear - "he's a horseman" - I would like to think that it's some trait they saw in me that I learned from Bob Wheeler.

To me, he's always been in the Hall of Fame.

Dennis Patterson - San Mateo, Calif.