ESPN, You Could Have – Should Have – Done Better

Horseracing Wrongs was recently featured in an ESPN online piece, “Racing on the Edge.” While I am certainly grateful for the opportunity, the finished product was something one might expect to find in an apologist rag like the Paulick Report or Thoroughbred Daily News. Bad enough that the “reform” message – that horseracing can be fixed (with a clear subtext that it is worth fixing) – was front and center, but to carry that message the network (manipulatively, in my estimation) cast a track vet, Jeff Blea, who was disabled in his former life as a jockey. A compelling human-interest story, sure, but I fear the average viewer’s sympathies will be grossly misdirected.

Anyhow, here are my major points of contention:

– Of the so-called equilateral triangle of vets, owners, and trainers, Blea says, “Everyone is doing the same thing…what’s good for the horse.” C’mon, ESPN, this is an industry rife with dirty play and you allow Blea’s untruth to go unchallenged?

– When Blea conceded that “[Thoroughbreds] are susceptible to injury because there’s a massive body…running on four spindly legs,” I awaited the logical followup: If they’re susceptible to fatal breakdowns, why are we forcing them to race in the first place – especially for nothing more than lousy $2 bets? Alas, it never came.

– Blea brings back the original Santa Anita boogeyman: the rainy winter (he actually used a pothole analogy). But earlier in the segment, I had said – factually, of course – that Santa Anita averages 50 dead annually, effectively debunking the hard-track line. Blea’s turn at distraction was allowed to stand.

– Then to the crux of the matter: “Animal welfare is critically important to people…so with that cluster [I had already established ’twas no “cluster”] of injuries we had last year, I think it created those reforms such as medication reform, veterinary oversight, more involvement on a day to day basis.” And: “But we can get close to [zero kills]. Every year, we can get closer to it, and a little closer the following year, and a little closer the following year. And if we keep doing that, that’s a good thing.”

Reform, as I’ve said repeatedly, is a ruse; “we can get close to zero” is a load of rubbish. And Blea knows it. What was required was tough, objective journalism, demanding this of Mr. Blea and the industry he represents: Where was this zeal for horse safety before it all hit the fan last spring? Nowhere, of course, because dead horses simply didn’t matter, or didn’t matter enough for them to get all hyper vigilant about it. How many thousands and thousands and thousands of racehorses were sacrificed prior to all this talk of “medication reform, veterinary oversight, more involvement on a day to day basis”? It’s a sad joke, really. The simple truth is this: The urgency we see today stems from livelihoods threatened, not concern for the horses.

And just in case anyone out there is still unconvinced that ESPN is compromised on this issue, in a story on racehorse fatalities, how many do you reckon they showed? Yup, you guessed it, not a one. Instead, we were treated to picturesque shots of Santa Anita and the horses and their people going about their workdays. (And although the piece was focused on breakdowns, there was nary a mention of Racing’s greatest evil of all – slaughter.) All this is to say, ESPN, you’ve sorely disappointed.

An example of what should have been shown:

34 Comments

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  1. I’ll be writing to ESPN to register my displeasure with their lack of objective investigative reporting.
    What a shame this piece didn’t ask the questions that need to be asked and allowed misinformation to go unchallenged. ESPN can, and should, do better!

  2. Is there a place/person at ESPN where we can leave a message expressing our disappointment in their reporting?

  3. Patrick, you are nothing if not eloquent. I certainly wish when I get back into English 101 and 102 (composition) I can channel some of your talent when I’m “compelled” to write about things in which I have absolutely no interest. As for your point about ESPN, I believe the fact that you were invited onto the program was your winning statement. You were there and that was a powerful statement in itself. You don’t need to beat people over the head for them to know your position. It is a very strong one. I do value all your work and believe everything you say 100%. But I still believe horseracing can be forced to change. And forcing change will be difficult. Laws have to be changed first. Thankyou for your involvement. You are the clearest thinker of them all.

  4. Insanity is defined as doing the same things over and over and expecting different results. I think that sums up the mentality of running horses with large bodies on spindly legs over and over but it is worse than insanity, it is diabolical. This evil needs to de-funded and banned because reforming insanity is not possible! Reforming the evil of horseracing is not possible! If anyone in horseracing reforms themselves and gets out of the “spin cycle” of continuously racing horses and running them into the ground or dumping them into the slaughter pipeline, that is awesome!!! Self-reform means you have to get out of horseracing because horseracing is of itself the sickness that kills innocent horses in the pursuit of winning purse money and providing a poison to society; the poison of gambling, betting on innocent horses while they are not matured and while they are doped up to run!

  5. Sure, ESPN could and should have done better. But they will do better, I think, in the very near future. Because, one way or another, the Santa Anita Death Track will resume racing. And the stage has been set for that first, horrifying, and very public breakdown in a live race. It’s the one we all know is coming, probably within the first week of their newly-permitted, “safe” running. And they won’t have the use of their famous screens to help them mitigate views of the carnage. So, I imagine ESPN’s follow-up presentation won’t have nearly the pro-racing tone this one had.

    Hope Dr. Blea has his talking points prepared for the follow-up piece, with its new, “tragic” twist. Because we all know Patrick will.

    • I think that the whole pro-racing community is standing by with the “public relations” argument that horse racing is 99.somethingsomething per cent safe regardless of how many horses are injured and killed in the next gruesome round of horse races held for pari-mutuel wagering. I dare say that the long established law firm Stoll Keenon Ogden PLLC will have their group of 140 attorneys at the ready to make it sound like it is really not that bad when only one horse out of 50 horses is killed in a race. That won’t be their exact words but the general consensus will be basically the same.

      • Wanda, the thing is horse racing is such a NICHE “sport” I guarantee everyone it will be a blip on the radar when it’s gone,99.9 percent of the human species won’t even realize it’s gone. That is the god’s honest truth.

      • I disagree that their law firm will be running much in the way of effective damage control for Santa Anita. Let’s face it, even 140 of the most brilliant legal minds in the universe can’t undo the cultural sea change that the SADT has been battling of late. Also, a sizable contingent of that particular firm (or any other, for that matter) is going to be inherently sympathetic to OUR side, and not their animal abusing client’s. They are obligated to represent them in legal matters, sure. But most of their staff has doubtless been made privy to some of SA’s more horrific atrocities, and have had their personal feelings about horse racing adjusted accordingly. How could they not have? Attorney, Paralegal, Clerk, Mail room runner: How many days/years can anyone study the gruesome fallout of this blood sport and NOT be repelled by the carnage?

      • Kelly, I hope enough individuals have seen enough to be sickened by the carnage and don’t defend it even though they might have to find other means of support to walk out of an office that takes on cases that defend horseracing and the barbaric incompetence and corruption on behalf of the racetracks and the veterinarians, everybody involved in racing injured horses to their deaths.

    • I think that the whole pro-racing community is standing by with the “public relations” argument that horse racing is 99.something something per cent safe regardless of how many horses are injured and killed in the next gruesome round of horse races held for pari-mutuel wagering. I dare say that the long established law firm Stoll Keenon Ogden PLLC will have their group of 140 attorneys at the ready to make it sound like it is really not that bad when only one horse out of 50 horses is killed in a race. That won’t be their exact words but the general consensus will be basically the same.

  6. I am always filled with a warm heart felt feeling anytime I read an excellent comment in support of animals. This is one such comment and I can only thank the writer. My wish is for many people to feel the compassion we feel for animals.

  7. Oddly enough this org is part of the gaming commissions? Is this the same folks that now that casinos have been added to most every horse track may seek to get rid of horse racing? No more expense, liability of live racing? Wasnt that the aim the minute casinos edged their way in. After all casinos are a much bigger hook. If horse racing wrong are by chance truly altruistic animal lovers and not being funded in part by casino gaming then we appreciate their concern and add, they sensationalize the bad and fail to look at all the good part of horse racing. In fact we could say parenting “kills” children if we wanted right? We could say any industry or practice kills animals or people. I think in all fairness maybe collect a significant sample size of those in the know and interview them, that is if you are after truth. signed, a former racetracker

    • There are a significant number of us “in the know” commenting on this website and we are tired of all the racing industry bullshit.

      • Just as we are tired of individuals and groups being paid to take down businesses and industries in the name of “caring”

    • Sunny Violet,
      First of all, you start out with a false accusation. You accuse Horseracing Wrongs of being paid or funded by casino gaming. That is your false premise. Did you get that from someone else, who obviously lied to you? Or, did you make that up on your own? This is a grassroots funded group that is NOT part of the gaming commissions!!!! I don’t know how you could make a gargantuan mistake like that, but you did. You have made it your premise to falsely accuse, attack and make a lot of noise. If you stick with that false premise, I personally would think that you are delusional.

      Second, you are willing to give credit to an altruistic group, Horseracing Wrongs, that is genuinely interested in the health, well-being and welfare of horses. That’s encouraging and thank you for that!!!

      Third, you immediately go back to the attack mode by saying Horseracing Wrongs sensationalizes the bad and fails “to look at all the good part of horse racing” while you further deflect from reality. Are you familiar with the FBI investigations and relatively recent indictments of several horseracing people who were involved in the illegal doping (and killing) of racehorses? If not, you may research it online. Are you familiar with the abusive treatment of horses that are used for racing in addition to the doping issues? I did not see you name one good thing about horseracing. Where is all of “the good part of horse racing” in your view?
      Furthermore, you suggest that Horseracing Wrongs should do this sampling of other issues to get “the truth” while you are making false accusations. That’s part of why I say you are making a lot of noise.
      You sign off as being “a former racetracker” however you sound like a person who is indifferent to the pain and suffering of horses being exploited in horseracing.
      If you are genuinely interested in “the truth” you might want to start with the FBI investigations PDF download naming 19 (nineteen) people starting with Jorge Navarro. It is 44 pages long. Also, in the interest of “seeking the truth” you would do well to stop making false accusations.

  8. Kelly, I’ve been bitterly disappointed in the elected officials of California. None of them have balls. Why is it taking this long??????,when the time is ripe,because this country is sinking. It would take no balls to drop the hammer right now!!!!!! hint, hint , hint, Governor Newsome,you listening?

    • Bonnie,
      According to an email I received, Gov. Gavin Newsom has passed Vote-by-Mail in California. As you may know, our current administration in the White House is very much against voters being able to vote without leaving their homes. Our current administration would rather have people standing in line to vote and being at a higher risk of being exposed to COVID-19. So, as long as it’s true that Gov. Newsom has passed Vote-by-Mail in California, he gets my respect. In due time, I hope, the governors of all States that still have horseracing with pari-mutuel wagering in the United States will pass legislation to end horseracing and pari-mutuel wagering on horses. It seems like it’s taking forever but it takes what it takes.

      • Wanda,that is WONDERFUL news(vote by mail) in my opinion that’s how it should be,ALWAYS. It has always seemed to me the nicest and best Governors to work with and REALLY listen to our concerns are Tom Wolf and Gavin Newsom.

  9. ESPN didn’t present this properly.
    It’s obvious to supporters of HRW’s position that this vet intentionally set-out to dispel or discredit the truth about horse racing as presented by Patrick.
    The public may or may not have adopted the right position or seen through the manure.
    The exposure was not the best, that’s for sure, but at least you are credible and the truth is on our side.
    The truth will prevail in the end.

  10. I am so sick of seeing horses fall or be vanned off. It is past time to shut this industry down. Let’s get this done – whether they’re on the track or in their stalls isolated or in training for the hour, these horses deserve so much better. Shut them down!

    • Im so sick of seeing children that are abused by their parents and thrown into the foster care system. We should have shut down parenting years ago.

      • Sunny- I wish I was being paid to have a conscience and a heart. I could use the extra money for the ottbs that are thrown away by the industry.
        God knows I sure wasted and lost a lot of money when I was trying to be successful in racing! Sure wish I had that money now! And the majority of that money – I’m ashamed to say – were for syringes full of meds and the newest supplements to make my horses run faster or to take their soreness and pain away!
        And these are just a few of the reasons I’m here supporting this site – and NOT being paid to do so. Nice try.

      • Oh and I’m sick of child abuse too. But since you seem to be very upset by that – and parenting – maybe you should take that up as a cause and go away.

      • Sunny your obviously on the wrong site.
        Nobody is saying that other causes are horrific, but I chose this cause.
        Since there’s so many issues just with horse racing alone it keeps me very busy, but why don’t you go find a site/group that is dealing with this issue?

  11. Hey,Peggy…I’m seeing a pattern here…over-breeding causes PROBLEMS in horses AND people.🤔…..so true!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

  12. And, Gina, god bless you for doing the good works and EVERYTHING you do and have done. It takes a strong person,to be able to cope with this house of fuckin HORRORS…called horse racing. 🙏🙏🙏🙏🙏🙏🙏!!!

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