07/03/2008 11:00PM

Letters to the Editor


Beleaguered few being relied upon as horse rescuers

It has been weeks since HBO's "Real Sports" gut-wrenching May 12 segment "Running for their Lives," on the disgraceful way in which Thoroughbred racehorses are routinely shipped off to slaughter.

Given all the negative publicity, and the enormous scrutiny that the industry has been under in recent weeks, you might think it is jumping through hoops to clean up its act. You'd be dead wrong.

The same team of equine advocates that worked with HBO

visited the Sugarcreek Livestock Auction in Ohio on June 20 to see if the number of Thoroughbreds being sent to slaughter had changed since the show aired. To our horror, not only was the pipeline still ongoing, more Thoroughbreds were sold to slaughter that day than ever. A total of 32 were at the auction that day. A group of equine advocates rescued eight. The others were sold to slaughter.

Where did they come from? Several came directly off poor finishes at Thistledown, having raced only days before. We rescued a few, but the stablemate of one was not rescued and was sold as meat for a mere $275.

Mountaineer horses were there too. Even though racing fans were outraged by the televised abuse and subsequent slaughter of the Mountaineer-based No Day Off, several Mountaineer horses were sold to slaughter.

HBO sure had it right - running for their lives. How disturbingly appropriate.

For decades, people other than those who should be responsible have been picking up the pieces, and the tab, to save as many as Thoroughbreds as they can. They risk their own safety by climbing into overcrowded kill pens containing dozens of frightened horses, just to flip a lip in the hope of discovering a Thoroughbred who needs help. They forgo family vacations and spend their own money to pull horses from kill pens, get them the veterinary care they need, and to find them good homes.

And so, while the horse-loving public is out there risking their necks and spending their last $10 to save a horse, where are the people who have made their living from these horses?

Where are the racetracks that don't have retirement and adoption programs in place? Where are the "powers that be" who argued so clumsily at the recent Congressional hearing on the welfare of the Thoroughbred racehorse that racing does not need a national commissioner?

If you guessed anywhere but where the horses need them to be, you've just hit the exacta.

Gail Vacca - Wilmington, Ill.

Rider's infraction was badly judged

As an old equestrian, current owner, and breeder for more than 45 years, I must express my concern over the suspension of jockey Jeremy Rose for a six-month period after striking a mount with his whip (June 27).

I feel the judges and racing officials involved did not properly weigh the reasons why a jockey can hit a horse in the wrong body spot, in this case the eye.

A racing horse, weighing around 1,000 pounds, is traveling at approximately 35 miles an hour. The whip helps control horses, straightening them out when they begin to lug in or out. It is also instrumental in having horses change leads and other crucial elements.

Many jockeys, in switching whips from one hand to the other, put the whips in their mouths during the exchange. It is not an easy task to perform and still keep one's hands on the reins. There have been times in these exchanges when jockeys have lost the whip.

A rider may momentarily lose control of a whip and in haste to use it strike the animal in the wrong section of the body. Perhaps this is the reason for the error on Jeremy Rose's part. (I did not see the race, so I can't be sure, but my feeling is that it was accidental.)

In any case, this penalty is far too severe. Perhaps the judges in such cases should be jockeys or

equestrians, and have the experience of riding a horse at race speed to understand the reasons better.

Albert Keshishian - Oakland, Calif.

Some whip use crosses the line

As a longtime race fan, I was glad to hear that Jeremy Rose was suspended six months for misuse of the whip. I am a big fan of Rose, and he has brought in lots of winners for me. I like his aggressive style, but for years I have thought he relies too much on the whip.

Another rider I like but who should be warned and/or suspended is Seth Martinez at Emerald Downs. Just watch films of him and the way he hits his mounts down the stretch.

If the ethical treatment for animals people paid attention to any races other than Triple Crown events they would be rioting over Martinez's whip use. Surely he has left many nasty welts on horses he has ridden.

Jeff Richardson - Lincoln, Neb.

Veterinarians can serve as watchdogs

I think I have a relatively easy fix to the problem of drug positives and abuses that have marred our wonderful game recently - Rick Dutrow, Steve Asmussen, Larry Jones, et al. ("Two positives at top barns," "Cloud hangs over Jones's huge year," June 27.)

Instead of the individual trainers hiring the veterinarians, have them all be employees of the track or state. They would make rounds just as is done now, and a trainer would have a list of what drugs and why they are required available for the vet. The vet would then decide whether a drug was warranted and then administer it. If he or she did not think it warranted, then it would be refused.

The list could be submitted to the vet the day before the visit so that any denial could have a quick appeal process. Take the vet away from the trainer, and I think the masking/positives would end. Unfortunately (or fortunately), I also think the careers of many of today's supertrainers careers would end.

Everyone (horse, owner, honest trainer, bettors) wins.

Russell A. Weber - Amityville, N.Y.