Following my post last week about synthetic surfaces, I saw links at both Thorough Blog and Equidaily to this article by Art Wilson on the debate in California over the safety of synthetic tracks. Notable quotation: “I’ve had nine horses put down in 40 years, and five of them have been since the synthetics” (trainer Melvin Stute).
In the article Wilson offers a measured approach:
Synthetic tracks will have been a California staple for two years by the end of
2008. It’s not time to toss them aside, like critics claim, nor would it be
proper to embrace them as a cure-all for the safety of the horses and riders.
This industry needs to start pulling on the same end of the rope, or the
concerns and arguments that exist today will still be around in 2010. The clock
ticks, and we all wait to see what’s next.
It’s really quite simple. If each track’s racing office would keep an official,
unbiased record on the number of morning breakdowns and compare it to the
pre-synthetic days, we’d have something to go by. As it is now, it’s all
speculative. (Whittier Daily News)
I’d go a step further, and mandate the publication of those records on a regular basis, though I wonder whether such records were kept in the “pre-synthetic days” to which Wilson refers.
And while we’re on the topic of racing reform, I’m trying to figure out how all of those who have vowed to turn away from the sport following Eight Belles’s death think that their approach will help improve the lives of horses. On television, radio, and various electronic sites, hundreds of people have declared that they’re done with racing, that they’ll never watch another Triple Crown race, that they can no longer stomach the barbarity of the sport.
I don’t get it. If I felt that strongly about something, was so disturbed that I was moved to proclaim publically about it, I’m not sure that I’d think that that proclamation, in and of itself, was enough. I mean, what does it accomplish? OK, so they’ll never watch another race. They’ll never go to the track. They won’t bet. Racing can hardly afford to lose fans, but I don’t see that sort of behavior having any impact on the jurisdictions, the breeders, the leaders in the sport. After all, you’re not really DOING anything. You’re just doing…nothing.
You want to make racing better? Turning off the television won’t make it happen. You want horses to get better care? Staying away from the track won’t make it happen. You want to make sure that horses have better lives after the track? Ignoring the sport won’t make it happen.
I wish that we could take those emotional outbursts and do something with all of that energy. I think it’s possible that people with influence in our sport are listening. Newspapers are giving space to the issue, television and radio are covering it, and racing organizations are vowing attention and funds.
So seize the moment. Write to your local racing authority, and thoughtfully and reasonably offer suggestions for reform. Donate money to the various organizations that take responsibility for the health and well-being of horses. Read, research, and learn about the issues confronting the sport, and decide for yourself where you stand and what you think.
Don’t let the voice of the mob take over. Don’t let hysteria overwhelm reason. Don’t let extremists control the discourse, overshadowing the meaningful conversations that we have an opportunity to begin. And by all means, don’t turn away from the very animals that you claim to want to help.