WHY THE 2019 BREEDERS’ CUP COULD LAST ONLY ONE DAY

On June 27th, the Breeders’ Cup Board of Directors voted unanimously to keep the 2019 event at Santa Anita despite 30 horse fatalities since late December 2018. By this action, the Board is taking on the obvious risk of a having a breakdown in the glare of international attention. But a recently passed California law ratchets up the risk even further and could result in a one-day event instead of two days.

John Cherwa of the Los Angeles Times wrote this week:

“Gov. Gavin Newsom signed into law Wednesday a bill that gives the California Horse Racing Board the ability to swiftly suspend (emphasis added) racing at a track, move races between tracks, and change dates.

The CHRB earlier this month asked Santa Anita not to run the last six days of its meeting after a 28th horse suffered a catastrophic injury. Santa Anita said no and the CHRB had no recourse because of a mandatory 10-day public notice period required for any action by the board.

It now has the authority to suspend racing without a public notice period.” (emphasis added)

This significant change means that, perish the thought, if one or more horse fatalities occur during the races held on the Friday edition of the 2019 Breeders’ Cup, the CHRB has the legal authority to immediately cancel the Saturday card at Santa Anita with no public notice and without the consent of Santa Anita and Breeders’ Cup.

A single casualty on the Friday Breeders’ Cup card would evoke concern from elected officials, fans, and others, and multiple casualties would almost assuredly force the CHRB to act on an emergency basis by using its new legal power over California racetracks to call off Saturday races in the interests of safety and animal welfare.

The Breeders’ Cup is a private organization and can manage as it pleases. Yet it almost defies logic that the Board of Directors would willingly enter into a situation in which the year-to-date equine death toll at the host track is 30, international attention will be intensified, and the Saturday card could be cancelled by newly granted regulatory authority of the CHRB.

Next November 3rd, let’s hope that we look back on an incident-free Breeders’ Cup and say that all the fears about holding the event at Santa Anita turned out to be unwarranted. But, as of late June 2019, we don’t know whether there will be casualties or not. A barrage of negative publicity and even the cancellation of the Saturday card seem like risks that a prudent decision-maker would want to avoid, even at the cost of moving the event.

That the Breeders’ Cup Board of Directors’ vote to remain at Santa Anita was unanimous is perplexing.

Copyright © 2019 Horse Racing Business

A BREEDERS’ CUP AT SANTA ANITA IN 2019 WOULD BE A TERRIBLE BLUNDER

About a week ago, I saw a classified ad in the Blood-Horse magazine offering to re-sell a clubhouse box for the 2019 Breeders’ Cup at Santa Anita. This got me thinking how much trouble it would be to untangle business arrangements if the Breeders’ Cup board of directors were to move the event to another racetrack only four months out. Fans who have already bought tickets would be inconvenienced and contracts with many suppliers would be voided. What a complicated mess a move would create, I thought.

Then yesterday I heard that a 30th horse fatality had occurred at Santa Anita and a Hall of Fame trainer had been banned from all of The Stronach Group racetracks. Today, a friend who does not follow horse racing closely remarked to me about the carnage at one of America’s premier racetracks and he went on to say how public sentiment was surely turning against horse racing. Shortly afterwards, I got into my car to leave my friend’s house and a national radio network was broadcasting a report about the Santa Anita fatalities. It said calls were growing to shut down horse racing, not just at Santa Anita but nationwide.

Certainly, moving the event is no way to treat customers and vendors. However, staying at Santa Anita poses a risk of such magnitude that it overrides all other considerations. Should there be a fatality during a Breeders’ Cup race, recriminations will rightly be fast and furious in coming and horse racing will be dealt a powerful blow that it will take years, if ever, to recover from.

In terms of proportionality, the question of remaining at Santa Anita or going is lopsided. The decision is so obvious that one wonders “What is the Breeders’ Cup board of directors waiting on?”

Copyright © 2019 Horse Racing Business

HORSE RACING’S DILEMMA: AMERICAN SOCIETY VIEWS INJURIES TO HUMAN ATHLETES AND EQUINE ATHLETES DIFFERENTLY

In the first four games of the 2019 NBA finals, Golden State star Kevin Durant did not play due to a strained right calf. Once Golden State fell behind the Toronto Raptors three games to one, Durant was derided by some fans and media members for not playing when his team needed him to avoid elimination. Durant unwisely played in game 5 in the series and suffered a devastating ruptured right Achilles tendon that is difficult for an athlete to fully recover from in less than a year and perhaps never will. Then in game 6, Durant’s teammate Klay Thompson went down with a torn anterior cruciate ligament or ACL.

In the wake of the injury to Durant, there was some criticism of Golden State for playing him, but not much. When Thompson went down basically nothing was said other than it was unfortunate and that injuries are part of the game. There was no outcry about basketball being a brutal game or laments that drugs like the nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory Toradol are given to players in pain on gameday so they can perform.

Similarly, when horrific injuries have occurred during NFL games, such as spinal injuries to wide receiver Darryl Stingley and linebacker Ryan Shazier, there has been plenty of grief and sympathy expressed, but no widespread calls to ban football or accusations that drugs are to blame.

Contrast this “injuries are just part of the game” attitude to what happened after Eight Belles suffered an injury just past the finish line in the 2008 Kentucky Derby that required her to be euthanized (unlike human athletes, horses cannot be reasoned with to rest after surgeries to repair injuries). A cacophony of assertions immediately ensued about the cruelty of horse racing, along with unfounded allegations that the filly was drugged. Never mind that since the first Kentucky Derby in 1875 there had never before been a fatality in the race.

An objective observer would agree that there is a much different standard for how the public views injuries to human athletes and equine athletes. The usual explanation is that human beings can choose whether to enter a boxing ring, drive a racecar at high speeds, or risk brain damage playing football, whereas horses don’t have a choice and therefore horse sports for human entertainment are inhumane.

But there is more at work than this explanation and it has to do with the emotional affection Americans have for certain species of animals. For instance, most Americans would find it repugnant to read that the Humane Society International estimates that “30 million dogs across Asia, including stolen family pets, are still killed for human consumption every year.” Another example: while horse slaughter is banned in the United States, a reputable survey found that 65% of South Koreans are willing to eat horse meat. Conversely, beef is a staple in the United States but cattle are revered by Hindus in India.

Such vastly contrasting cross-cultural perspectives are partly attributable to what social psychologists call “motivated reasoning,” wherein people evaluate issues or arguments in a biased way to support a preferred conclusion. Likewise, proponents and opponents of horse racing see the issue of injuries and fatalities in an entirely different context. The former generally agree that “some” reforms are necessary in order to improve safety and the latter mostly want the sport abolished.

If horse racing is to have a viable future, the industry must unify behind changes that can greatly reduce horse fatalities, while at the same time present a cogent argument as to why some injuries and accidents are inevitable in sport or life.

Uncompromising adversaries of horse racing won’t be persuaded but the general public is the target audience. The problem is that too many insiders in racing are prisoners of their own motivated reasoning and don’t see the peril. Meanwhile, their sport is running out of time to take actions that will make sure there will never be another outrageous and largely preventable Santa Anita-like carnage.

Copyright © 2019 Horse Racing Business