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Tuesday, March 27, 2012

The New York Times and the Fallout

A couple of days ago, reported how The New York Times investigation into horseracing breakdowns painted a bad picture on thoroughbred racing because the data was incorrectly collected and was weighted heavily by quarter horse statistics.  In addition, the accusation was made that The Times piece was deliberately skewed to paint racing as being bad in an attempt to increase circulation; in effect engaging in tabloid reporting.  Yet, blogger Bill Shanklin conceded there are real problems with thoroughbred racing which need to be addressed.  If you haven't seen the original article by The Times, you can read it here.

Ah, we usually don't get charges about the 'elite media' when it comes to horse racing.  Granted it is true the article showed a bias, but let me clue you in on something people in the media don't want you to know.  Despite the media's proclamations that reporting is unbiased, it is often not the case.  Even if a person attempts to be unbiased, their personal beliefs will get into a story.  The difference between a blogger and a newspaper is a Blogger will (should) admit what they write reflects their opinion.  As in political debates, people will de-emphasize the points that go against their premise and highlight the statistics which back up their case.  So what we have here is shooting the messenger while attempting to minimize the size of the problem. 

What can't be denied is the eighteen thoroughbreds who were euthanized after breaking down on the Aqueduct winter track since the start of the year.  Perhaps, the methodology used (basically picking up where the words 'broke down', 'vanned off' appeared in the charts) was indeed flawed, but where will the media get correct figures on breakdowns as many tracks/states don't report this information to the Jockey Club?  No matter how you slice it, racing has a problem which has not been addressed properly either through lack of will or an inability to get their hands around the problem.  Slot money may have just exasperated it.

As a result of The New York Times report, the proverbial fan has been hit and has resulted in a press release issued by U.S. Senator Tom Udall, which calls for passsage of legislation proposed by Udall and Congressman Ed Whitfield which calls for federal regulation of racing with regards to medication and doping of race horses.  Will it ever happen?  Who knows, but I dread if and when the next high-profile breakdown occurs.  It goes without saying if and when such legislation is enacted, harness racing will be caught up in it; after all, why the number of breakdowns is not as great as our counterparts, the medication issue in standardbred racing is well documented.

I know the horse racing industry dreads federal intervention.   To be honest, in many ways the industry would welcome federal action in the belief the government has the means to develop testing which may catch the cheats, but they dread what other medications (such as lasix) may get banned as well.  Then, if you are a subscriber to the slippery slope theory, once the government gets involved with regulating racing, it makes it much easier for the federal government to outlaw racing.  Let's face it, it is much easier if you only have to lobby one government body instead of individual state governments.

Monticello being strangled by strangles - Monticello Raceway is in lockdown mode as a result of an outbreak of strangles at Saratoga Raceway as the number of cases of strangles now reaches fourteen horses.  No horses are being allowed to come into Monticello Raceway's backstretch and any horses which leave are not being allowed back in.  As a result, Monticello's racing is limited to those on the backstretch.  Due to the lockdown, expect short fields for the next two weeks as horses are scratched and the cancellation of some races where the majority of horses entered were to be shippers for race cards which were already drawn prior to the embargo.


Anonymous said...

I am a small-government guy through and through, but something has to be done and the Feds appear to be the only ones willing to do it. Who knows what will happen ultimately, but this industry can't, and frankly shouldn't, be allowed to keep going the way that it has.

Anonymous said...

There are uncertainties about the impact of federal regulation should it come about, but there's already government regulation from the states. We all know how well that's worked.

Perhaps federal control is the way to get the national racing commissioner so many of us have discussed.

As for the New York Times story, bias present or not, it offered the ugly side of thoroughbred and quarter horse racing where state regulators, track management, owners, trainers and jockeys haven't stepped up to insure it's as safe and honest as it can be.

They also accept it as a cost of doing business and have continued to operate in the same manner for years because the majority of the population has no exposure to it.

If the Times story raises the public's emotions to the point of action and change, racing (including harness) has itself to blame, not a newspaper.