Racing’s new normal - “just one damn thing after another”

The quote in the title of this piece is attributed to Arnold J. Toynbee, who wrote a monumental 12-volume series titled, A Study of History.

It’s now an apt description of the horse racing industry in the U.S.

It begins with what would be an unfortunate but otherwise unnoteworthy equine fatality.

Let’s begin with the story posted on the Paulick Report this weekend on Preakness afternoon titled,
“A 24th Horse Dies At Santa Anita, And National Media Takes Notice.”

“After six weeks without an equine fatality, Santa Anita saw its 24th since the start of its winter meet on Friday morning. Commander Coil, who was out for a routine gallop, broke his shoulder and had to be euthanized. According to the Los Angeles Times, which was one of a number of national and local outlets reporting on the incident, some 7,000 timed workouts and an estimated 80,000 non-timed gallops have taken place without incident during the previous six weeks.”

The death of Commander Coil was reported by CNN, ESPN, NBC News, FOX News, and The New York Times.

Another equine fatality at Santa Anita was bound to happen again. But to go six entire weeks without such a breakdown was extraordinary. That’s what makes what we now realize is an insatiable media appetite for this type of incident so much more troubling.

Many in the racing industry thought the respite of fatalities at Santa Anita was a turning point on this issue. Only now do we realize that around every corner lurks another equine fatality and another media storm.

Welcome to racing’s new normal.

What should the racing industry do about it?


What I mean by everything is to leave no stone unturned to place the horse racing industry in the best possible light. That means no more whack a mole. It means that we put ourselves in the shoes of the American public and conduct our business in a way that is consistent with THEIR sensibilities and expectations.

Now knowing the steady diet of news that current and future generations of Americans will consume, where will the sport be 20 or 30 years from now?

First let’s look at where we have been.

According to the fact book of The Jockey Club here are some important industry trends in the U.S. over the past 30 years.

                                                1988                       2018                % Change

Foal Crop                             45,258                    21,500*                (52.5%)

Number of Races               71,014                    36,586                   (48.5%)

Number of Starters            83,021                    46,144                   (44.4%)

So, in the past 30 years the size of the racing industry has been cut in half.

What will the next 30 years bring? Another 50% decline? Can we do better? Will we do worse?

I see nothing that will alter the trajectory of our current slide absent a change in attitude and a complete overhaul in the way we conduct our business. Especially in the way we address issues of safety, integrity, and animal welfare.

A great description of the status quo can be found in an excerpt from the May 16, 2019, Louisville Courier-Journal article – “From Derby DQ to Lasix, horse racing has problems. Could a national set of rules help?

“The idea of centralized leadership in horse racing isn’t new. It’s just the current structure is ingrained and those in charge in each jurisdiction operate independently out of self-interest.

“As it has always been, each state’s commission simply does what it wants.

“‘The word that best describes the structure of racing in this country is fiefdom,’ said Lexington-based horseplayer Mike Maloney, ‘because racing is regulated on a statewide basis. … Everyone has their own self-important little fiefdom that, ‘“You can’t tell me what to do.”’

“The sense for horse racing is that fiddles are playing as Rome is beginning to burn.”

If you agree with this sentiment, maybe you should get involved in supporting an organization that is dedicated to making a REAL difference. Let me suggest two that I know well and can highly recommend. I’ve included the mission statement of each.

Coalition for Horse Racing Integrity – Our mission is the adoption of a national, uniform standard for drugs and medication in horse racing. United Anti-Doping Agency (USADA) is the only rule-making, testing, and enforcement body with the independent and science-based expertise necessary to act in the best interest of the sport, its human and equine participants and its fans. As a result, the coalition supports the bipartisan Horseracing Integrity Act, which addresses this pressing need.

Water Hay Oats Alliance (WHOA) We are a grassroots movement of like-minded individuals who support the passage of federal legislation to prohibit the use of performance-enhancing drugs in the sport of horse racing. The appointment of an independent anti-doping program run by the U.S. Anti-Doping Agency (USADA) will resolve the problem of widespread drug use in American racing and put U.S. racing jurisdictions in step with international standards.

Doping destroys public confidence in racing, defrauds the betting fan, weakens the genetic pool and, most importantly, puts the life and limb of our equine athletes and their jockeys at risk. It is obvious that after years of committee review and discussion, America’s racing industry cannot police itself by eliminating the proliferation of performance-enhancing drugs in our sport, nor does it possess the power to adequately punish the purveyors of these drugs.

If we do not make a difference now, will there be an industry worth saving later?

Comments (2) -

  • I believe we in the horse race industry need to help push this sport ahead with as much media positivity as possible. A veteran race announcer once told me years ago, "never be negative when it comes to racing!" . As someone who has covered racing from various positions,  I have always followed that.
Comments are closed