I have been in racing for almost 50 years. I have been involved with horses my whole life, growing up on a dairy farm with various ponies and horses, fox hunting, three-day eventing, show hunters, etc. From the beginning, my only reason for riding has been my love for horses. I’ve always loved being around them at every level. My first memory of a race horse was looking at pictures of Swaps in the Blood-Horse magazine and thinking he was the most beautiful horse in the world.
As children we went to the Timonium Fair to watch the races, and dreamed of either owning, training, or riding a race horse. Little did I know all three of those dreams would come true! But, always, my first thoughts were of the beauty, grace, and generosity of the horse himself, and I felt it was my responsibility to treat him with the greatest respect and give him the best possible care. I came into racing at about age 21 as an exercise rider and then a trainer. I thank racing for the best moments of my life, from starting a horse in the Preakness (1980, second woman ever to do so), to having the honor of training for a few of the greatest names in American Racing (Calumet Farm, Greentree Stable, John Franks, etc).
In racing I found my husband and some of my closest friends. Racing has a camaraderie which is impossible to explain to the layman. In a business where we spend most of the day, every day, no matter the weather, our health, or any possible extenuating circumstances, with the horses, it isn’t hard to understand the closeness of its people. So, a sport which has given so much to me, and to which I have given almost my entire life, is breaking my heart with what it has become. I know that, in any business, when money is involved, things can become very complicated. Racing is no different. People have enormous amounts of money invested, and, understandably, would like to see some return on investment.
Unfortunately, when dealing with a living, breathing animal things don’t always go according to plan. I think that many of the owners and trainer have forgotten what the game was intended to be about. Which is, first and foremost, the love and respect for the horse himself, and, secondly, the love of the sport itself. Love for the horse and love for the sport could easily go hand in hand, but it would mean putting the welfare of the horse first and understanding that the result might not always be the intended one. I have always advised prospective owners to invest only as much money as they can afford to lose. Look at it as a game, not as a business.
It seems to me that trainers, succumbing to pressure from owners who are looking for return on investment, often follow practices that they know are wrong in hopes of a better outcome. From a lifetime of experience I can say for certain, it just doesn’t work that way.
When I first came around, we would call a veterinarian for a horse who was either hurt or sick. Period. Trainers cared for their horses through their training routines, feeding programs, and lots of hard work on their legs. There was no Lasix, no Bute, and very few other drugs permitted to run on. We relied on our ability to read the horse, figure out what he needed, and enter in the “right spot.” The rest was between the rider and the horse. In today’s world of super trainers with hundreds of horses, most of whom they never even see, relying on assistants to tell them what’s what, owners spending millions of dollars looking for that fifteen minutes of fame, and bettors becoming increasingly distrustful of the whole business, it is no wonder we are in so much trouble!
Sadly, there are still so many of us who really care for our horses. Sad because we are getting squeezed out by the ones who may truly love the sport, but have entirely forgotten the horse. In conclusion, with the whole world breathing down our necks, it is up to us to clean up our act. I would beg the authorities in all racing jurisdictions to hold the feet of every trainer, owner, jockey, groom and hot walker to the fire. No matter the prestige of the race or the winning connections, everyone must be treated equally. No one is outside the law.
– Judith Natale, Thoroughbred owner, breeder, trainer
The extraordinary efforts of the Water Hay Oats Alliance, the Coalition for Horse Racing Integrity, the Humane Society of the United States, Animal Wellness Action and Representatives Paul Tonko and Andy Barr are paying dividends a full year ahead of the establishment of a Horseracing Integrity and Safety Authority (HISA) office. I see it in the bold rulings (temporary or permanent) by the New York Racing Association, Churchill Downs and the Kentucky and New York racing commissions. It’s not too late to get on the right side of history before dealing with an investigative organization that will operate under the aegis of the federal government. An oversight body will finally have nationwide clout and every bad actor in our game – no matter how big, as we’ve seen this week – should be terrified.
If you’re waiting for this to go away, it won’t. It’s as if 2021 is a last chance to start fresh. Cheaters, think twice. It’s clear to me that just the existence of HISA will make horse racing safer for horses and fairer to the people who bet on them.
– Allen Gutterman, Member, HSUS Horseracing Integrity Act Council
The May 14 news article, “Horseplayers Sue Baffert, Zedan Racing Over Medina Spirit Drug Test,” illustrates how the horse racing industry has failed to clean up its act even after Congress passed the historic Horseracing Integrity and Safety Act (HISA) in December to curb the rampant use of performance-enhancing drugs.
Hall of Fame trainer Bob Baffert has finally apologized for initially denying (vehemently) that the corticosteroid betamethasone was administered to Kentucky Derby winner Medina Spirit – the fifth time one of his horses failed a drug test since May 2, 2020. Meanwhile, HISA is facing legal challenges by racing business interests and the states of Oklahoma and West Virginia; all oppose stricter drug-monitoring standards. Yet performance-enhancing drugs push thousand-pound animals to compete past their physical limits while masking pain, inflammation and other warning signs that precede catastrophic breakdowns. Indeed, the number of race horse deaths in the United States far exceeds that of other racing jurisdictions around the world.
The public must demand more transparency and accountability from the racing industry.
– Joanna Grossman, Ph.D., equine program manager and senior advisor for the Animal Welfare Institute in Washington, D.C.
I am writing as a lifelong fan of horse racing. I fell in love with the sport when I was six years old when I saw my first Kentucky Derby on TV. Even on our old black and white set in 1969, Majestic Prince was a magnificent creature. I was in first grade and just learning to read, but I begged my dad to buy me Turf and Sport Digest every month because of the wonderful color photos on each month’s cover.
Love affairs with champions like Secretariat, Ruffian, Forego, Slew o’ Gold, Seattle Slew, Affirmed, Easy Goer, Personal Ensign, My Flag, and Elate have intensified my love of the horses and the history of this lovely sport.
I then began writing on a freelance basis–in The Blood-Horse, Thoroughbred Times, SPUR, the Thoroughbred Heritage website, and chapters for the book Great Thoroughbred Sires of the World (2006).
This love for these wonderful creatures has made me livid at the antics of Bob Baffert. In my opinion, he should not be called the “face of Thoroughbred racing” as some racing pundits call him, but he should be called the “blight on Thoroughbred racing.”
When racing went through such scrutiny because of the tragic fatalities at Santa Anita, the disqualification of Maximum Security in the 2019 Kentucky Derby, it did not need the litany of drug violations and outrageous excuses from the sport’s highest-profile trainer.
Leaving aside Justify’s scopolamine positive test debacle, the fact remains this man has had nearly 30 reported medication violations in his career. It is outrageous, and the fact Baffert has had only slaps on the wrist, is disgusting.
Let’s take the excuses. Gamine and Charlatan were being handled by an assistant using a pain patch and the horses were “contaminated” that way. Merneith tested positive for dextromethorphan and his excuse was beyond belief. He had workers who had had COVID and were taking cough medicine and she had to have been contaminated from that.
And now this? We go from we never gave Medina Spirit any medication to self-pitying why is this happening to me, to it’s part of the “cancel culture” movement, to “I’m a Hall of Fame trainer and people are jealous and resentful of me,” to, oh yeah, we gave the horse the medicine for a skin rash and we were not aware what was in it.
If I were an owner and had a horse I had paid a million dollars for, it and had it in his care, I would want to know what medication that horse was being given and why. I would be very leery of a man who gives meds without supposedly knowing what is in it. I would be leery of a man who supposedly has a groom so disgusting as to pee on hay and feed it to the horses. I would be leery of a man who promised to do better on national TV and then failed to follow through.
And I would be leery of a man who does not have the character to admit that the buck stops with him and that everything that goes on in his stable is his responsibility and his alone.
In short, I would remove my horse from that man’s care, which I hope owners do, as Spendthrift Farm has done.
Baffert thinks he is so famous that he is above the rules and regulations of the sport, and sadly, the powers that be have reinforced that by only giving him minor penalties. Churchill Downs may have banned him – for now – but it is a given he will be back at the Derby next year.
We need the Horseracing Safety and Integrity Act implemented immediately. Baffert can complain all he wants about what he feels is the absurd testing of picograms of medications. But these rules were put in place for the safety of the horses and the integrity of the sport. If Bob Baffert thinks this is ridiculous, then he has no respect for the integrity of the sport and he should find another line of work – perhaps used car salesman.
Racing is not just about wins and losses and betting. It’s about people like me who love the animal and the beauty of them and the history of the great ones of the past and present. Racing is a glorious sport and does not deserve to be sullied by people who care only about winning at all costs and not the equine athletes in their charge.
– Elizabeth Martiniak, racing fan
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