Not So Quiet Anymore…

Things seemed to be quieting down on the “western front” – – not the western front in World War I, I mean the western front in terms of horse racing controversy in the US.  Recall that Santa Anita (in Arcadia, CA) had seen a couple dozen racing and training injuries earlier this year that were sufficiently severe that the horses had to be euthanized.  They shut down the track for a month or so; they had a variety of specialists/experts study and analyze the track; they instituted new rules about medications.  Seemingly, that put things on a more normal footing, until just recently.

Now, Santa Anita has had two more injuries that resulted in euthanasia in the past week or so – one during training and another in a race.  There had been about 6 weeks of accident-free racing and training but now the spotlight is again focused on Santa Anita.  The grim statistics there are:

  • Since Christmas of 2018, there have been 25 horses injured at Santa Anita to the extent that the animals had to be put down.

If there were nothing else going on, that datum could easily scare trainers and owners of thoroughbreds to the point that they would take their assets and deploy them elsewhere.  If that was the “extent of the damage”, one could live with the bewilderment as to how all of that came to pass and move on to look at horse racing in different venues.  But that is not all that is going on and the stakes for what is going on are much higher than the quality of racing at Santa Anita or the continued existence of Santa Anita as a horse racing facility.

Bryant Gumbel did a segment on Santa Anita – and horse racing more generally – on his HBO program, Real Sports with Bryant Gumbel.  In the segment, reporter Bernard Goldberg said that these equine injuries/deaths are only “the tip of an iceberg the public knows nothing about”.  When the “issue” is framed that way, the problem is much larger.

Obviously, some defenders of horse racing and/or racing enthusiasts consider the HBO piece akin to a drive-by shooting.  I don’t want to get in the middle of their beef with HBO on this because – like both sides of that argument – I do not know enough about all the dimensions of this situation to form a solidly based opinion.  However, I do think I understand enough to make a couple of reasonable observations here:

  1. Owners and trainers use a wide variety of medications on horses racing in the US.  Some states have “tight rules” that are “closely monitored”; some other states have more lax rules with a much looser set of regulatory procedures.  That leads some to say that racing needs a “National Czar”.  If I believed that concept had an even 50/50 chance to resolve the problem, I’d be all for it.  Problem is that I think a “National Czar” would be more window-dressing than problem-solver.
  2. At the same time, I do believe that meds and drugs are part of “the problem”.  In many other countries, horses must be off all such substances for a sufficient time that on racing day, there are no traces of any such stuff in their blood – – and they test all the racers.  Meds and drugs allow a horse to run when it has “soreness” or a “minor injury”; it is comparable to weekend athlete taking an ibuprofen tablet before going out to play touch football.  But the fact is that meds set up horses to train and work while they have minor injuries and that means they do not let those minor injuries heal.
  3. I am confident that the next item I will describe will do nothing to resolve this problem.  The California State Legislature has begun to hold hearings on an “Overview of Equine and Human Safety and Welfare Policies and Procedures Within California’s Horse Racing Industry”.  The legislators seek to find the answer(s) as to what has caused this spate of equine deaths at Santa Anita and to prevent it from happening in the future.  C’mon now…  There is legislation pending that would allow the California Horse Racing Board – the “State Czar” of racing if you will – to close down any track based on its safety/welfare concerns.  [Aside:  No possible chance for shenanigans there…]

I said this before, and I continue to believe that these unexplained and misunderstood deaths at Santa Anita threaten the viability of horse racing as a sport and that racing as a sport is not in the best of health absent this sort of negative news.  I think there is progress to be made understanding and more tightly regulating the use of meds and drugs to the point where – perhaps – people who run afoul of those regulations are banned from the sport permanently.  Even there, I recognize that a lot of work and study needs to be done.

Moreover, I am convinced that any panel of legislators – from town councils to the “Greatest Deliberative Body on Earth” – will not resolve the issues here.  The best anyone can hope for there is a lot of grandstanding and arm-waving by people who would not recognize the source of these problems if the source stood up and announced its presence in monosyllabic simple declarative sentences.

Moving on, the NFL and some of its players are about to offer us a new competition.  40 Yards of Gold will feature 40-yard dashes between NFL players and former NFL players.  40 Yards of Gold bills itself as:

“… the Authority on Speed in the sport of football from Pop Warner to the NFL.”

Some of the NFL entrants are top-shelf players such as Alvin Kamara, Tarik Cohen and Mark Ingram.  The idea is to have 8 offensive players and 8 defensive players arranged in two seeded brackets.  By elimination there will be an “offensive champ” and a “defensive champ” and then there will be a final sprint to determine the “40-Champion”.  Two things come to mind here:

  1. Sounds like fun.
  2. Sounds like pulled/torn hamstrings about to happen.

[Aside:  No danger that injured human sprinters here will be euthanized…]

Finally, here is an item from Dwight Perry in the Seattle Times:

“An Arizona woman was jailed after sending 159,000 texts to a man after just one date.

“Thus breaking the record previously set by overzealous Alabama fans to a five-star recruit.”

But don’t get me wrong, I love sports………