SBD/Issue 165/Leagues & Governing Bodies

Horse Racing Calls For Unity, Leadership Heading Into Preakness

Horse Racing Officials Look For Answers 
In Wake Of Eight Belles' Tragic Death
With the Preakness Stakes set to run Saturday, horse racing officials are "concerned about the health of a sport which has struggled to cultivate new fans, lost a significant share of the gambling dollar and now finds itself embroiled in controversy" after the death of Eight Belles at the Kentucky Derby, according to Josh Peter of YAHOO SPORTS. Derby winner Big Brown is a favorite to win the Triple Crown this year, but Eight Belles' death "could overshadow a feat many racing officials thought would reinvigorate the sport." NTRA President Alex Waldrop: "We're putting on the gas and the brakes at the same time. ... We want people to watch Big Brown. But obviously we're concerned about the impact (of Eight Belles)." With PETA planning to protest the Preakness in the wake of Eight Belles' death, Peters wrote racing officials "might find it hard to dismiss PETA's claims or to characterize the outcry as hysteria from people who know nothing about the sport" (SPORTS.YAHOO.com, 5/15). In Philadelphia, Mike Jensen reports racing industry leaders "realize they can't respond by saying these are accidents that just happen." Bessemer Trust Co. Chair Stuart Janney III, Chair of the Jockey Club's Thoroughbred Safety Committee (TSC), said, "There are things we can do better." Janney Thursday said that "no subjects would be off the table" for the TSC's two scheduled meetings over the next month, and that the TSC is charged with examining "breeding practices, medication, track surfaces and the rules of racing" (PHILADELPHIA INQUIRER, 5/16). Chicago Sun-Times columnist Jay Mariotti said of the Preakness: “I hope that we’re not allowing the joy of Big Brown to be interfered with by what’s going on with Eight Belles. It’s very important to scrutinize and investigate if indeed horses are being abused” (“Around The Horn,” ESPN, 5/15).

IN NEED OF A LEADER: In L.A., Bill Dwyre writes under the header, "Horse Racing Needs An Authority Figure." The sport "can agree only that it has no central power and can't even agree on whether that matters." California Horse Racing Board Equine Medical Dir Rick Arthur, when asked about the concept of a "true commissioner," said, "We need one." Trainer Richard Mandella: "Great idea, but who do you get? It would have to be someone independent of any special interest group. Someone who could bring everybody together." Jockey agent Tom Knust: "We need a dictator." Trainer Bob Baffert suggested naming trainer D. Wayne Lukas commissioner, saying Lukas could "get through all the politics and get something done. When [Eight Belles] went down in the Derby, I would have just hauled Lukas out of the stands and put him in charge, let him handle the press and the doctors" (L.A. TIMES, 5/16). In Philadelphia, Dick Jerardi wrote, "Does the sport have a serious problem? Absolutely. Is there anything that can be done about it? Absolutely. Will anything be done about it? Not likely." Horse racing needs a "national office with a David Stern-like commissioner who could mandate rules that work best for the most people." But Jerardi adds, "Can't happen because each state controls and regulates the sport in its state" (PHILADELPHIA DAILY NEWS, 5/15). SI.com's Tim Layden: "The biggest problem of all is that racing doesn't have a commissioner. It has state commissions, and within those state commissions, separate race track jurisdictions bound by similar rules but enforced by different people" (SI.com, 5/15).

CHANGES NEEDED: SI.com's Layden wrote, "Changing the sport is a daunting proposition. NFL labor troubles look like PTA squabbling by comparison." Layden: "It's hard to kill a sport. Humans have been racing on the backs of horses since several thousand years B.C. ... Change will come to racing, but it will come slowly " (SI.com, 5/15). In Detroit, David Mesrey: "Even when horse racing is clean, it's still a dirty business. For every Seattle Slew, there are thousands like Eight Belles. For every Secretariat, scores of Barbaros. ... Colorful images and slick marketing campaigns have traditionally shielded the general public from these harsh realities" (DETROIT FREE PRESS, 5/16).

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