Supposedly, the lowest breakdown rates in the world are roughly half the U.S. rate. (I say supposedly because there is no uniform policy for the recording and reporting of breakdowns.) Supposedly, these rates are effected by doing all the things American reformers seek: ban on raceday drugs, better pre-race exams, better track surfaces, etc. Well – some questions: First, how would such a rate translate if achieved here? Second, what would such an “achievement” reveal about those behind it? Third and most importantly, in this industry, what does that word – “reform” – even mean?
Through my own research, the NY Times stats, and talks with industry experts, I believe that upwards of 2,000 horses die on or at American racetracks annually. 2,000. If they were to somehow half that (however unlikely that may be), would that, then, qualify as “success”? In reformer circles, it most certainly would; in fact, such a rate would be celebrated. Imagine that – backslapping at 1,000 carcasses. (To those who would argue my number, feel free to plug in another – 1500 to 750, 1200 to 600 – and then explain – with a straight face – how or why that would matter.)
Reform is hope. Reform is promise. Reform says “we’re on it,” a new day is at hand. But as applied here, reform is a ruse. In horseracing, the best reform can mean is less, not zero, dead horses – dead horses, I remind, for $2 bets. Is that what we’re to call progress in the 21st Century? I think not. Progress, true moral progress, would be a once and for all end to this sordid business, for as desperately as they – the apologists, the reformers, the so-called “water, hay, and oats” people – try to sell it, you can’t cleanse that which was never clean to begin with. You can’t fix wicked.