Tuesday, May 23, 2006

By and by hard times

I only watch about three horse races a year. If I'm home and happen to catch the Breeders' Cup races, that's a super-bonus. (Imagine... more than one race in a 3 hour telecast!)

But the Kentucky Derby is to me what The Masters is to some people. It's summer's official herald. More than a golf match could be, I think, because it's got colts and fillies getting out in the warmth and running. How can the Augusta He-Man Woman-Hater's Klub compete with that?

So Barbaro's run for the roses was like spring personified to me. He came blasting out of that pack and extended his lead just for the joy of running as fast as he could. And, lucky me, that'll always be my memory of him.

We went out Saturday afternoon and evening, just happening home long enough to set up the DVR. We watched a little bit of NBC's coverage, and headed out. It was the next morning, on NPR, that we heard how Barbaro was coming out of surgery, and we steeled ourselves to watch the race. It's a tribute to Prado's horsemanship that we could even get through it. He was a genius, and perhaps a saint, to get that horse calmed so quickly.

There are a couple of pieces of media coverage I wanted to highlight. On one hand, Pat Forde at ESPN says that there are safer track substances out there, and calls for them to be adopted more widely. Seems like a no-brainer to me. Horse racing needs to have stars with longer careers if it wants to get a bigger share of the TV market.

On the other hand, the Washington Post's Andrew Beyer suggests that the economics of horse breeding have changed to devalue durability. Like the money problems in any other sport, I don't see a way to fix this. How could the purses increase enough to pay for the risk of increased racing, when stud fees are so lucrative?

And from across the pond, Lydia Hislop of The Times looks at the British coverage, and wonders if the horrific NBC replays are better for fans than the BBC's edited coverage. I think she makes an excellent point; the fans need to see the risks involved in sport. It also seems to me that the NBC crew were genuinely trying to figure out what was happening, and had to review the film to learn; this was no Joe Theisman film.

I'm no horseman, and I don't know what the answers are. I just want you to get better, Barbaro.


Blogger tommyspoon said...

I dated a "horsey girl" right before I started grad school and her contempt for horse racing could've been measured on a richter scale. (The fact that she rode dressage didn't seem to bother her all that much.) Personally, I'm pretty neutral on the "sport of kings". But when things like this happen I feel that old bile rise up once again.

Maybe I'd feel differently if these poor animals weren't so dreadfully altered just for the sake of speed. It's a wonder why this doesn't happen in big time races more often.

That x-ray picture kinda says it all, doesn't it?

10:53 AM, May 24, 2006  
Blogger John B. said...

I follow the horses on occasion and it really is quite simple in my eyes...no matter what surface is run on, training, etc. occur, the simple fact is that 1000# of horse running at a fastspped are precariously balanced on 4 spindly legs...injuries are bound to happen, the ankle area is a week point on a horse.

An unfortunate risk of the sport.

10:59 AM, May 24, 2006  
Blogger John B. said...


By the way, thoroughbred horses at most tracks are treated better than many less fortunate humans are. They are fed well, groomed, and live a sheltered life. There is too much of a monetary investment in most horses to allow them to be abused or mistreated.

The thoroughbred breed is bred to race and run, it is 'in their blood' to run and race. Same as plow horses are bred to pull plows, etc. over many genrations.

There are incidences where the horses are mistreated or neglected, especially after their racing careers are over, but even most of the losers are bred for small time $.

11:04 AM, May 24, 2006  
Blogger Joe said...

I think the x-ray says a lot, Tom. About the strength of an animal that could survive such an injury. Perhaps conflicting things about the people who'd go to such lengths to save that animal's life.

Could you be more specific about how thoroughbreds are "dreadfully altered" in your opinion? The lines are probably overly inbred, and if that's what you mean, I agree. On the other hand, how is breeding for speed in horses any different than purebred dogs or, for that matter, Angus beef?

6:14 PM, May 24, 2006  
Blogger John B. said...


I agree that the inbreeding and such have produced 'weaker' horses in the sense that they can't race as frequently and as long career wise, but the basic anatomy of a horse's leg works against it. That is a lot of weight to balance on spindly legs.

They used to shoot severely injured horses (yes, with a gun) right there on the track, and it was not an uncommon occurrence, both in big and small races.

10:08 AM, May 25, 2006  
Blogger tommyspoon said...

I guess I should have mentioned that the "horsey girl" I dated was a vet student at the time. (She's an equine/feline vet in CN now.) Overbreeding is just the beginning of the atrocities that are committed against these animals. The use of drugs (not just steroids) to "fine tune" the behavior and performance of these animals is a bit much for me. And some of the training techniques that are employed are rather barbaric. She told me a bunch of stories about her experiences with broken down thoroughbreds that made my hair stand up on end. (I'm sure there are sources out there on the internet both pro and con.)

I know that drugs and brutal practices are employed in the raising and slaughtering of livestock, and I have problems with those practices too. I guess it comes down to what you think is more important to society at large: food or gambling.

And I should state for the record that I'm neither a PETA member nor a vegetarian.

11:23 AM, May 25, 2006  
Blogger Joe said...

I am in absolute agreement with you about the lax drug policies and worse enforcement of them in horse racing. They're abhorrent.

I have not, however, seen any connection of them to Barbaro or his owners.

Same thing with training... I know there are ways of training dogs which are brutal, and ways which seem brutal to some, and no simple way to tell what's going on with a particular combination of owner and animal.

After that accident, there's a real risk of losing casual spectators. The owners and trainers and jockey clubs should wake up and address your criticisms to try to reclaim some legitimacy.

It's just a shame if Barbaro and the Jacksons have to go down as the Shoeless Joe Jackson of this story... guilty by association, until proof is shown.

1:31 PM, May 25, 2006  
Blogger Alison said...

tommyspoon wrote:

I guess it comes down to what you think is more important to society at large: food or gambling.


I think food is essential to society at large. Which is why I am MORE concerned about that issue. Yes, some horse trainers abuse their animals. Far from all. To base your opinions of an industry on the ones who need emergency vet care is like judging humanity by the population of the Hopkins ER at 3am. You'd think we were all swimming in gunshot wounds.

On the other hand, if you buy a chicken at your local mega-mart (assuming it is not labelled free range and organic), I promise you it was pumped full of hormones (hint: chicken breasts don't normally grow to that size on their own), it was most likely kept in a pen the size of your desk chair, and it was very likely killed inhumanely.

The difference between abuse in the racing industry and abuse in the food industry is that the problems in the racing industry, while widespread, are on a much smaller scale. And aren't up against the general sentiment of "but I don't *want* to pay a dollar more per pound."

8:24 AM, May 27, 2006  

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