My Old Man Ponderings are often fun and I hope humorous. This one, and a series that will follow, will be a little different.
You see, it’s Derby week and the media will deluge all of us with romantic racing stories and contrived drama. Then there’s me and I have been pondering my future involvement in racing, after 100 or so wins as an owner, a breeder and stallion owner. Why? Because the ever-declining sport I once so dearly loved just continues on a delusional path I have slowly been coming to regret.
This epiphany jumped into my consciousness a few weeks ago. I was reading headlines associated with the North American Thoroughbred racing industry, and their 2020 Equine Industry Database (EID). The EID reflected a decline in the fatality rate from 2019 and various headlines included comments like, “2020 Fatality Rate Lowest in History, or Lowest Since Record Keeping Began”.
Curiously, other headlines during the same month or so included comments like “13 Counts of Cruelty Against a Kentucky Boarding Operation”, “Owner Put on No Entry List after Horse Found in Kill Pen”, “Thoroughbred Retirement Foundation Opens”, “Can Racing Survive Bad People?”, “Daily Wagering Sees Decline in March”, “Pennsylvania Breeders Address Slaughter Pipeline Issues”, “Churchill Shortsighted for Selling Arlington”, “Horse Racing Integrity and Safety Act Polarizing”.
Of course, I realize that many racing headlines like the EID headline are often contrived to create the illusion of progress in the steeply declining Thoroughbred racing industry. However, another quote related to the EID headlines indicated that authorities were “thrilled to see improvement”, and that racetracks and regulatory authorities should be commended for such improvement. Thrilled? Commended? Really?
After thinking long and hard about racing, and reviewing the entire body of racing industry progress associated with “humane” equine treatment, I concluded that a thrilled reaction to the recent EID fatality data point is the equivalent of being thrilled that people do not drown as fast in eight feet of water as they do in 15!
You see, after spending my lifetime learning that apparent facts are often misleading and sometimes false, I know that those who comment on data are not worth a damn unless they provide “comparative context”. Any study or data set is simply data. Only context provides information, and I’m sorry to say I dismissed many an analyst in my business career for failing to live up to their responsibility and “create understanding”! It doesn’t matter if you are reading the bible, studying Covid infection rates or looking at Thoroughbred racing fatalities, context matters.
Over the next few blog ponderings I will provide context on the sport of Thoroughbred racing. I will also discuss how racing, now half of what it was a couple of decades ago, can be saved. To do this I will reveal some ugly truths and data evidence surrounding Thoroughbred slaughter, dangerous racing surfaces, mediocre and irrelevant reporting systems, some great Thoroughbred aftercare retirement organizations, how to change the racing economic model to fund horses throughout their 20 to 25 lifetime (rather than just their 3 or 4 year racing career), the horse industry organizations fighting tooth and nail to prevent the implementation of the federally passed Horse Racing and Safety Integrity Act, and the SAFE Act which would make transportation of Thoroughbreds for foreign country slaughter illegal.
Yep, a lack of real Thoroughbred industry progress, coupled with continuing delusion by racing powers who think miniscule improvement helps when mountains should have been moved long ago, creates a dismal clarity in my mind.
Eight feet of water my friends.
Dave Astar is a race horse owner, stallion owner, breeder, 40 year business executive, and 50 year handicapper.