As Ed DeRosa writes today in a piece about the importance of sanctuaries such as Old Friends, Joe Drape’s reporting on TRF has made the discussion about providing for racehoses when their careers end more public. It also seems to have made the conversation more urgent. The situations aren’t quite analogous, but there’s something reminiscent of the safety debate that followed Eight Belles’ death in the fresh attention on the retirement and rescue issue, a sense that racing has to come up with a solution to a problem that hasn’t been neglected — the work of hundreds of organizations attests to that — but is complex and will probably take collective action to solve. “The only chance that something good can come out of this mess is if this turns out to be a watershed moment in horse racing,” writes Bill Finley. He’s right.
Prepping for the Florida Derby, Dialed In worked four furlongs in :47.55 at Palm Meadows yesterday. Trainer Nick Zito, who said the colt “bounced” in his last race, “caught the final eighth in :11 flat.” Handicapper Mike Maloney calls Zito’s prospect one of three likely Kentucky Derby winners. “If he shows a decent finish in the FL Derby, even if not winning, I think he will be fine.”
Tomorrow is Dubai World Cup day, and Raceday 360 has an overview of every race. I wrote about the UAE Derby, a weak renewal this year, for the HRF Derby Prep alert, and only glancingly mentioned the remarkable entry of two Aidan O’Brien trained starters in the race, the first in six years. Like last year, I assumed that this year no UAE Derby finisher was likely for the Kentucky Derby — Sheikh Mohammed seems have given up on that path for Godolphin 3-year-olds after the disappointments of Regal Ransom and Desert Party in 2009 — but Alan Shuback proposes Coolmore could be using the race as a Derby prep for Master of Hounds or Alexander Pope. “It would be a large irony, indeed, if Magnier & Co. pulled a Kentucky Derby runner out of the UAE Derby hat in Sheikh Mohammed’s backyard.”
Sweet Ducky, recently sold and transferred to trainer Herman Brown, is apparently possible for Churchill Downs, though, if he runs big in the UAE Derby. “It would be tough to turn it down if he runs a great race.” That would certainly be an interesting move, considering the colt’s new ownership. Would Kentucky license Chechen president Ramzan Kadyrov, called by the late Russian journalist Anna Politkovskaya, “a Stalin of our times“?
Violette said there has been discussion about dedicating one-tenth of one percent of New York’s handle to retirement programs, which would need legislative approval. This would generate about $2.2-million per year.
“That way everybody that participates in racing — handicappers, tracks, jockeys, trainers, owners — would be giving something,” he said. “Yes, it means an increase in takeout. But I can’t think of a better reason for a takeout increase than the protection of our race horses.”
Raise takeout? An unfortunate necessity. Mandate that everyone who registers a foal pay $25 toward racehorse retirement? An impossible dream.
I’ve given money to the Thoroughbred Retirement Foundation and other retirement groups in the past; I’ll surely do so in the future, because horses deserve a decent quality of life after the racetrack. But like most horseplayers, I don’t breed horses. I don’t own horses. And until those who do breed and own horses levy a similar burden on themselves to help cover thoroughbred retirement costs through registration, sales, or earnings — all possible sources of funds — then I’m not going to see a takeout increase, for the horses, as anything other than what it is — a politically palatable passing of the buck.
3/25/11 Note: There’s an excellent conversation going on in the comments about takeout and funding racehorse retirement, to which Violette thoughtfully replied this afternoon. “I will go even further; let’s not raise the takeout and take the same .001 from the existing levels,” he writes. “NO INCREASE. A solution must be found, this is for the greater good.”
Several weeks ago, in a post called “The Invisible Sport,” Jennifer Wirth of the Saturday Post inspired a campaign to increase mainstream media coverage of horse racing. A worthy goal, but as the reaction to Joe Drape’s New York Times story on the the Thoroughbred Retirement Foundation shows, it’s the whole industry that’s largely invisible, not just the sport.
Outside of Kentucky and New York, there aren’t many non-trade publications covering the larger stories of racing business and politics, and outside of the New York Times, almost none doing investigative work.
Vic Zast runs down the reasons for the lack of horse racing coverage in his HRI column today. All are familiar (fewer reporters, reduced resources, turf writers “captured” by sources), but that doesn’t make the problem any less an issue.
Wirth argues that racing won’t last if people aren’t exposed to the game and its stars through news stories; it also won’t last without press oversight, exposing serious issues and compelling change. Whatever the debatable flaws in Drape’s work, his reporting is necessary, and racing needs more of it.
3:15 PM Addendum: Writing on the Atlantic, Andrew Cohen reacts to the TRF story. “No matter who is at fault, no matter what happens to the TRF from here, please, someone, take care of those poor damned horses.” It seems like there should be a mechanism, some simple way to gather small sums for retirement funds — something like the Jockey Club check-off program, made mandatory. An an opt-in program, it isn’t attracting much support.
Joe Drape is out with a scathing story this morning in the New York Times, alleging that the Thoroughbred Retirement Foundation has had difficulty meeting its obligations to satellite farms caring for retired racehorses over the past two years, leading to cases of neglect and starvation. How deep is the mess? There’s no indication in Drape’s story that the quality of care horses get through the TRF Secretariat Center or prison farms has been compromised — and I hope that’s not because we don’t have the full story yet.
11:15 AM Update: TRF replies to Drape’s report on Facebook: “The TRF disputes the allegations by Joe Drape about the OK farms. They are either untrue or mis-characterized …” Further comment to come this afternoon.
12:30 PM Update: In a teleconference scheduled for 2:00 PM, TRF president George Grayson and board chairman Tom Ludt will speak to the press.
Ray Paulick is out with piece, from his perspective as a board member, that refutes the allegations in the NYT article and provides important context re: the financial turmoil that’s afflicted the organization for several years.
3/19/11 Addendum: “TRF defends itself against NYT article.” See also: “Dr. Patty Hogan responds to Drape.” I’m hesitant to say much at this point, because it’s obvious that the information out is incomplete, but what does come through re: TRF is that there’s tension with the Mellon Foundation, and re: retired racehorses is that not enough is being done (which is something that’s been known for a while). Drape’s story, which was followed up today with a report that the New York Attorney General’s Charities Bureau will review the complaints against TRF, has had one beneficial effect for TRF. “We’ve gotten a lot of money donated today, and that’s a positive thing.”
3/20/11 Addendum: The NYT reports that the veterinarian conducting the evaluations of TRF farms has been fired. “There were serious questions about her objectivity.” (But firing her raises serious questions about retaliation.) On the Paulick Report, Dr. Hogan “clarifies” the story by alleging Dr. Stacey Huntington released her findings “to the media for the purpose of creating drama” (comment #106). Dr. Huntington replies (comment #127).