Tuesday, May 6, 2008

Flux or Flub ?

Whenever crises' occur the calls and challenges for change are heard. This is true regardless of the size or scope of an an issue. It can be national security, the economy or the much smaller stage of horse racing. We work under the assumption that these crises could or would have been avoided had the players done something different. The truth is we will never know for sure; there is no way to go back and do it again. Was Eight Belles' breakdown avoidable? I don't see how anyone could say it was. Sometimes bad things happen. PETA and other activist organizations always try to take advantage of tragic happenings. Their arguments under these circumstances are always ad populum arguments. Obviously, in a situation such as this, every one's emotions are going to be sympathetic to the horse (horses by extension). Further, these arguments portray their target as having the opposite sentiments; that is simply not the case here. Just because Eight Belles broke down doesn't mean that the industry doesn't care about the horses. Again just the opposite is true. Their contentions that the surface or the whip was necessarily a cause of the accident also commits an argumentative fallacy. This is an atypical occurrence. It does not follow that because breakdowns occur (let alone this particular breakdown) then all industry practices are wrong or inhumane. And it doesn't prove that all horses that feel the whip are going to break down or are abused.

The industry is concerned about the care and treatment of horses, lessening the occurrences of breakdowns and portraying the sport in a positive light. But, I agree they can do more. First and foremost they have to act as united industry. Positive change is not going to occur if every racing jurisdiction doesn't adopt uniform rules. The first issue that needs to be agreed on is a uniform drug policy that will include steroids. Decide what's legal and what's illegal and have good reason for making those decisions. If bute or another substance is deemed legal to use during training then make it known that on race day any amount above allowable limits will result in an extreme penalty, suspension or both. In regard to serious violations, banned substances, etc., it should be a once and you're out policy. A trainer is responsible for his barn. Biancone should be gone. This is necessary to show the public that the industry is serious and does care about the treatment of the horses. The public needs to know that the horses' well being is not being compromised for a pot of gold. And, further, the handicappers need to have confidence that the product they are investing in is legitimate. No compromise is acceptable. A slap on the hand and lip service is not enough.

Surfaces are the talk of the industry at the moment. I believe a lot more needs to be known before we all embrace the synthetics. The statistics are far from decisive. There are so many variables they may never be. Just comparing numbers is not enough. The types and ages of horses using those synthetics need to be taken into account. The weather conditions as well. For those of us who watch winter racing in NY we have become used to seeing many of the same old warriors year after year. These horses have already proven themselves pretty durable. With this class/type of horse running I would expect to see fewer injuries/breakdowns no matter the surface. With 2 and 3 year old Graded races I would expect that the extreme level of competition and age of the horses would result in more injuries no matter the surface. I really don't know if these assumptions are true, I'll look into it.

We do hear of different types of injuries and soreness occurring in horses training on synthetics, particularly hind end soreness. My theory on this is that they can't grab the surface quite as well so their hind legs slip ever so slightly as they propel themselves. Maybe certain horses won't extend themselves when they feel this. Also I don't think the issue of going from synthetic to dirt has been looked at enough, if at all. As I understand it, in humans, the stress of concussion helps strengthen bones. And the stress of resistance training helps develop muscle. Obviously too much concussion can lead to tragic events, but we need some stress to maintain strong bones and muscle. So my concern is: will we see an increased occurrence of injuries in horses that switch from synthetics to dirt? Do they get enough concussion on the synthetics? I prefer watching racing on dirt. I believe that dirt tracks can be made as safe as any. But, if it can be proven otherwise, so be it.

Obviously there are many more issues that need to be dealt with. And just because the arguments made by PETA are not logical that does not mean that some of the issues that they point to are not legitimate. If they weren't there wouldn't already be rules in place about excessive whipping or the controversy now taking place about synthetics. But progress does need to be made. The industry needs to show they are in a state of positive flux trying to improve conditions. If they don't it will be just another tragically flubbed situation.

The last thing I'll add here is that I think the biggest crime resulting from this situation is the damage PETA's statements are meant to cause Gabriel Saez. How can one not feel for him? Twenty years old, first Derby, a well ridden race and then... I'm sure no one feels as badly as he does. To try to crucify him, to me, illustrates inhumane treatment by PETA. They could make their point without whipping him so much after the wire! I read a comment somewhere where the writer suggested he (Saez) should sue them for libel. I'm sure he'll act with more class than that (he already has) but they deserve worse. Shame on them!

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

Like the comments. would like to know the stats.