In early 2019 there was a massive outcry regarding American racehorse safety. Behind all the posturing and patronizing what has the American racehorse industry actually done? The answer, is next to nothing my friends.
While focused on Santa Anita, the entire American Thoroughbred race horse industry experienced a full-frontal safety assault from their own fans, the public, politicians, PETA, HBO and the rest of the media. Today, a simple search of “2019 horse racing deaths” produces over 17,000,000 results! Despite the apparent crisis, American horse racing has addressed this 2019 dilemma with all the vigor of a sleeping dog.
Certainly, the racing industry did something right? Afterall, they contrived little groups to claim how much they care, ran ads, convinced people to publish stories about how great they treat racehorses, and even had a handful of American racetracks take some “inexpensive” baby steps to try and convince the public they actually cared. However, when it’s all said and done, things are essentially the same today as they were in January.
You see, caring is all about sacrificing something to “be sure” you apply the very best methods to creating a “top tier”, not merely adequate, safety environment! We still do things the “American Way”. Here are just a few examples.
We run on unquestionably dangerous dirt surfaces with no plan to transition to much safer Tapeta synthetics or turf. We drug over 95% of all horses “on race day” to mask pain and enhance racehorse performance. We allow rampant state by state variability in medication, therapy protocols, oversight and enforcement. We even still allow over half of the racetracks in America to load hurting horses into starting gates daily without even conducting simple pre-race vet exams.
Of course, the 2019 fatality and safety issues were a public black eye but they are only the tip of a dirty and sinking American racing iceberg. This year the American racing industry officially shrunk to the 53-year lowest point ever in Thoroughbred foal production, which is the key indicator of the diminishing consumer demand for the American racing product. In just 3 decades the industry has been cut in half with no signs of a slow down in the deterioration, as the 2019 annual drop was another 3.6%.
The American racing product still doesn’t include popular sport wagering options with handicaps and lines, or lock in odds at the time wagers are made. It does not have a national authority but instead maintains a dysfunctional state by state structure which promotes massive variation and an entirely uncooperative industry effort. It actually encourages states and racetracks to compete against each other, hurting everybody’s product.
In addition, efforts to prop up the failing consumer product have focused on “non-racing related” subsidies, instead of improving consumer acceptability of the product. Those subsidies are now huge, because the racing product itself continued to decline and is now so poor that it cannot even approach standing on its own from a profit perspective. Couple the product failure with the fact that the industry markets the racing product as if half the media technology used to market competing endeavors doesn’t exist. (Over 99% of the public cannot name last weekend’s big stakes race, much less any horse that participated in it!)
So, 2019 was just business as usual related to change or improvement in American Thoroughbred racing. The trends related to the ongoing wasteful demise, and even a public outcry related to the element of safety in racing, was not enough to dislodge foolish failing momentum.
Meanwhile, the low minded and failing Thoroughbred Racing Industry celebrates foolishness and baby steps when the whole system, including the implementation of best-known scientific safety methods, needs to be incorporated in a modern re-engineering transition. There is absolutely no plan to transition the sport into the future.
Make no mistake. American racing powers have, for years now, made every effort to create the illusion of progress where there was none. 2019 is no different!
Dave Astar is a race horse owner, stallion owner, breeder, 40 year business executive, and 50 year handicapper.