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: