It’s Our Fault Too

A few years ago they banned dog racing in Iowa. I said we’re next. We’ve become inured to the thing that will decimate the number of racetracks – the continued loss of horses due to catastrophic injury. Beyond that, there just aren’t that many inveterate horse players left and we’re not likely to be replaced by younger generations. Oh, they’ll get gussied up and go to a Derby Party, but overall they would only lose one day of getting blackout drunk while yelling, who won?

We’re tired of the criticism of the sport we love. ┬áBut how many of us are willing to fight for that sport? We’re left out of decisions, but how hard have we tried to impose out interests on management? Instead of asking us what we think would improve the sport, track management is paying homage to a group of kooks who like animals better than people.

Do we really believe PETA cares about the billions of dollars bet on horse races? Do they care how many jockeys, trainers, grooms, breeders will be out of work? Do we believe PETA will control horse racing’s agenda?

How did we get here? We allowed too many people who don’t know much about how the sport works, except they think it kills horses. Aqueduct went through this during the winter meet a few years ago. They stopped racing, fixed the problems, and everyone was happy.

You can’t ask owners and trainers to do expensive pre-testing on every horse in every to make sure there isn’t a ligament stretched or a bone with slight chip. It would only accomplish making veterinarians and radiologists wealthy.

If you look at football, it leaves players crippled after their careers. There is a guy who played safety for Denver that comes to the golf course supported by two crutches. That’s his life from now on. Almost all players suffer some level of CTE later in life. Even Troy Aikman admits he’s out of it sometimes. It’s just that football players don’t die on the field. And obviously they make their own decision to play juiced on toradol or some other painkiller. I’ve both separated and dislocated my shoulder. There is no way I could have possibly continued after those injuries. But there are players who separate a shoulder, take a shot of some pain numbing drug, and go right back out. In baseball, the news might be that a player hurt his wrist but is using cortisone to play. No big deal at all. If you think it doesn’t happen in all sports, you had to have been living in a cave. But as humans we can make our own decisions while horses are dependent on their trainers to decide how to keep them healthy, so we don’t think about banning the collision sports.

People who play the races all the time don’t trust the trainers, or the jockeys. The criticism is steady about both. In the movie, Once Upon a Time in the West, Henry Fonda decides to eliminate one of his very overweight confederates. The large man wears pants with both a belt and suspenders. Before the killing shot, Fonda says, how can I trust a man who doesn’t trust his own pants. How can we bet when trainers are sending lame horses out or giving them some mysterious drug or both?

I think most of us know this. If there wasn’t betting we wouldn’t waste 10 minutes of our important lives watching horses run around. Too many people are loyal to the money they dream of making. Now we’re really being asked to support the industry we criticize. We’re being asked to say despite the problems we have faith that we will solve all the problems. There is no dream without all the people who make the horses go.

If we, and by we I mean anybody who bets horse, don’t make some noise, we’ll lose the sport one track at a time. We don’t have the time or we figure it will all blow over. I mean, they couldn’t close Santa Anita, could they? What have we done to prevent it, to demonstrate how valuable it is to the economy and how much some of us love the sport?

If horse racing ends, maybe I’ll bet Hong Kong or England or Japan. Or maybe I’ll just ride off into the sunset.