Lavalette Gold imploded after crossing the finish line in Thursday’s 4th race at Belmont, and this time the NYRA cameras couldn’t help but capture the ugliness…around the 1:40 mark (Race Replays, Thursday, Race 4). Dead at three. The video, of course, tells another story, one of cover-up and callousness: While the announcer remains dutifully silent – not a word – on the filly’s fall, which was as plain as the nose on his face, the winner’s people gather for their repugnant photo-shoot, proving once more that common decency in these circles is a commodity, unlike the racehorse itself, in short supply.

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Also Thursday, Quarter Horse Bt My First Picture died after breaking down in the 9th race at Evangeline Downs (Louisiana). Priced at $5,000 before the gun, she is now worth considerably less. And finally, on Wednesday, two-year-old For Riches was destroyed on-track at Saratoga Race Course after “sustaining [an] injury galloping.” Galloping. Just a baby, he had yet to run a race.

Tradition. Beauty. Elegance. Billing itself “The Sport of Kings,” racing presents its horses, especially the regal Thoroughbreds, as resplendent, pampered athletes proudly displaying their prowess to admiring fans. The horse, they tell us, is born to run, loves to run, with an instinctive will to “compete.” It is well-crafted fantasy, which major media gladly indulges with disproportionate coverage of Triple Crown pageantry, sappy biopics (“Seabiscuit”), and a ridiculous cult of romance surrounding the sport’s “stars”: The revered Secretariat joined two other horses on ESPN’s greatest athletes of the 20th Century and even adorned a postage stamp.

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Every once in a while, though, the horse people offer some naked truth. In October 2012, NY’s horsemen, presumably feeling self-satisfied, released the results of a new study (commissioned by them): “BREAKING NEWS: Economic Impact generated by the New York Equine Industry reached $4.2 billion in 2011, yielding roughly 33,000 full-time equivalent jobs.” In a press release, Rick Violette Jr, president of the New York Thoroughbred Horsemen’s Association, said, “The Study shows, in black and white, that every horse in New York is a potent job creator. The horse should be our state animal.”

So, there it is. To the horsemen, the horse is money; indeed, as the press release reminds, “horses are one of the leading agricultural commodities in the state,” with each of NY’s 23,100 racehorses representing “an economic impact of $92,100 on the state’s bottom line.” The horse should be our state animal not because he is a naturally autonomous, sentient creature wonderful at simply being a horse, but rather because he is “a potent job creator,” a valuable “commodity.” Tradition? Beauty? Elegance? Well, forgive the euphemism, just a load of nonessential matter from the horse’s digestive system.

Most reasonable racing insiders will concede that less-than-brisk business at the more pedestrian tracks is the result of a flawed product. But when an upper crust venue like Saratoga dips, the search for scapegoats begins. While most blamed the economy (or, yawn, the weather) for Saratoga’s relatively poor showing this summer, racing writer Bill Finley offers his own, rather unique explanation (ESPN, 9/10/13):

“The answer is that the two New York tabloids drastically scaled back on their horse racing coverage. … OK, so newspapers aren’t what they once were. But the combined circulation of those two papers is still at 1.5 million. That’s 1.5 million people who no longer read about horse racing, no longer are reminded every day that Saratoga is going on and that it is special.”

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Once upon a time, “both [papers] gave extensive space to the sport, with charts, entries, race coverage and handicapping analysis.” Now, alas, virtually nothing. As print-media downsizes, racing, because of its declining popularity, provides “an easy target for cutbacks.” And this, Finley says, exacerbates the problem: “Their abandoning racing is a signal to everyone else in the media that the sport isn’t relevant.” So, fan Finley wants NYRA president Chris Kay to reach out “and see if maybe he can’t change their minds.” Seems to me when a “sport” is reduced to begging for coverage, oblivion beckons.

For insight on racing’s descent into irrelevancy, Finley’s own words describing the current Saratoga product are instructive (bear in mind, this is an accomplished writer who means exactly what he says): There was a time, he notes, when “NYRA didn’t dare card races for the flotsam and jetsam [italics added] of the backstretch.” So while we see intelligent, sensitive beings, he sees but wreckage and waste marring a “special” Saratoga experience. Horseracing’s depraved core laid bare, once again.

If ever there were a reason for racing patrons to come, the summer-long 150th anniversary celebration of “America’s Oldest Sports Arena” should have been it. But it wasn’t. Not only did attendance decline almost 4% from last year, but the daily average attendance is down over 25% from the high set in 2003 (21,679 against 29,147). What’s more, the ’13 average is the lowest in the last 10 years. In a post-meet column for The Saratogian (9/7/13), sportswriter and apologist Mike Veitch worries for Saratoga’s future, arguing that NYRA greed (more days, more races) threatens to “kill the goose that laid the golden egg.”

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Others are more inclined to blame the weather (isn’t it always the weather?) or, more often, the economy. But as I’m fairly certain that this economy is better than the 2009-2011 editions, that explanation rings hollow. I’d like to offer one of my own by paraphrasing a Clinton ’92 campaign slogan: It’s the product, stupid. Now seems a good time to re-post something I recently wrote for our Facebook page:

Horseracing is in trouble. Although much of that is due to gambling competition and the growing reluctance of state governments to continue subsidizing the industry (racinos), an emerging public sensibility also plays a part. Because of this, advocates must not squander this unique moment in time. By persistently exposing the horseracing wrongs – doping, breaking, slaughtering, et al. – a planet devoid of “The Sport of Kings” can be achieved. Imagine that.

This point in animal-exploitation history reminds me of President Lincoln’s famous telegram to General Grant towards the war’s end: “Gen. Sheridan says ‘If the thing is pressed I think that Lee will surrender.’ Let the thing be pressed.” Indeed, let the thing be pressed.