Revision

I’m sitting in the press box at Churchill Downs. It’s quiet.  No sound is coming from the many televisions, and people who have time to talk have already left; everyone else is typing.

The lights, those lights that were to make this first night-time Breeders’ Cup racing so special, are still on, illuminating an empty racetrack.

I tell my students, when they can’t come up with a way to begin a piece to writing, to think about how they’d like to engage their readers. What’s the tone you want to set?  In what direction do you want to steer your readers? What can you write that will make your readers want to continue reading?

And when they can’t come up with a way to end a piece of writing, I ask them to think about the impression they’d like to leave with their readers.  What, I ask them, do you want your readers to think, know, feel when they’re finished reading?

If Breeders’ Cup Day 1 were an essay that one of my students turned in, I’d hand it back pretty quickly for some serious revision.

The Breeders’ Cup day began with a fight between two jockeys in the winner’s circle, on national television. I have yet to see it; I was watching the track feed, which didn’t show that. I may not watch it. That clip is likely to go viral, and many, many more people will see it than will see Shared Account’s thrilling victory in the Filly and Mare Turf, or Awesome Feather’s win in the Juvenile Fillies.

That was the introduction. It was not, I imagine, the tone that the authors of this Breeders’ Cup wanted to set. It is not the direction in which they wanted to steer their viewers. It is not what will make viewers want to keep watching horse racing.

The Breeders’ Cup day ended with a jockey telling millions of people that the horse he was on didn’t feel right. It ended with anyone who heard it watching as that horse was led to the starting gate. It ended with that jockey galloping his horse around the track, on racing’s biggest day, when more people watched racing than on any day except the Kentucky Derby. It ended with Life At Ten being eased, in every careful, solicitous nuance of that word (its root means “comfort”), across the finish line. It ended with furious bettors and angry fans. It ended with “should haves.”

That was the conclusion. It was not, I imagine, the impression that the authors of this Breeders’ Cup wanted to leave with their viewers. It was not what they wanted their viewers to think, know, feel.

Tomorrow is Day 2 of the Breeders’ Cup, but it’s not a revision; it’s a brand new article. Today, unfortunately, can’t be revised.

11 thoughts on “Revision

  1. Another black eye for the sport that can’t get out of it’s own way. And how about these contradictory accounts of the Life At Ten fiasco…

    According to DRF.com:

    Velazquez, during the warm up, told Jerry Bailey on ESPN2’s telecast that he was not happy with the way Life At Ten was warming up. But Velazquez did not ask the track veterinarian for an opinion, and Life At Ten raced. But as soon as the gate opened, Life At Ten was obviously out of sorts. Normally on or near the lead, she quickly dropped well back. Dr. Larry Bramlage, the on-call veterinarian for the American Association of Equine Practitioners, said Life At Ten was sound immediately after the race, and minutes later back at the barn. “None of the vets saw anything wrong with her,” Bramlage said. “Velazquez didn’t say anything to the vet before the race.”

    From Bloodhorse.com:

    Dr. Larry Bramlage, on-call veterinarian for the American Association of Equine Practitioners, said in a statement that the 5-year-old mare was examined prior to entering the starting gate by a team of three vets that “did not observe any physical problems.

    On TV, I never saw any vets go near the horse once she was on the track. Brings back bad memories of Barbaro who was barely looked at after breaking through the gate at The Preakness (after hiding in the back of his stall all afternoon). I guess there was too much money in the pools again to scratch the horse.

  2. While Calvin’s actions toward Castellano in the winner’s circle certainly were unfortunate, he had good reason to be livid, but not nearly as much as Martin Garcia did. I happened to be watching Castellano’s horse from the start. Garcia and his horse nearly went down thanks to Castellano’s move at the top of the stretch. His severe stumble, in turn, adversely impacted Calvin’s horse, so I can’t blame Calvin for reacting as vehemently as he did. It’s so dangerous out there at these speeds. Garcia’s ability to literally save his horse as it stumbled badly — flinging him forward, well out of the saddle, onto its neck and nearly to the ground – yet pull him back up from the edge of disaster and continue galloping on was heroic, to say the least.

    As for the Life at Ten fiasco, well, I’ve seen too many sport horses over the years tie up (show the effects of sudden and severe dehydration called azoturia) not to see that Life at Ten was clearly showing the same symptoms. Hello? Lasix is a diuretic, folks. What do you think the effects of that might be on the circulatory system?

    For the on-site vets not have seen her stiffness as an indication that her muscles likely were seizing up from lack of blood flow due to dehydration is beyond my comprehension. Outrageous. It was an unmitigated horse welfare disaster and the responsibility for that ultimately is on their heads.

    I’m still a racing fan, but I’m a horse fan fist. The buck should have stopped with Pletcher from the minute she arrived in the paddock. If he wasn’t willing to make the call then the experts – the track vets on site – should have stepped up. Period. If those decisions remain driven by the money, the owners, the track management, and their collective greed and not the welfare of the horse first and foremost as the key to ensuring the integrity of the sport for their protection and that of the betting public who put their money based on its integrity, then get ready for serious government intervention to start regulating this sport like you’ve never seen before.

    Police yourself, horse racing, or be forewarned.

  3. Teresa:

    It would seem your readers, including DJLoo and Leslie above, are more focused on horseracing as a humane sport than all the principals of this year’s Business (oops, sorry!) Breeders’ Cup extravaganza are capable of exhibiting. Television, especially that which airs non-ballgame sporting events, cares about the bottom line, that is, commercial success; television thrills at such unexpected controversies as jockey fights and pulled-up horses. As to Kentucky’s Churchill Downs and their attending vets, well, watch out for the Hardboots.

    Can’t wait to read your take on today’s edition.

  4. Something went eerily wrong. If anyone was watching the paddock scene, and observed Life At Ten, Johnny was rubbing her neck pretty robustly, for quite awhile, something I’ve never seen a jockey do before. Pletcher was not in the picture. Maybe, Johnny sensed an adverse reaction, and was trying to respond. Weird, that she was not looked at more closely.

  5. The Breeder’s Cup-Racing’s Championship Day. John Velasquez and Todd Pletcher–two of racing’s premier personalities, smart, accomplished and aware. Life at Ten being allowed to race when both knew something was awry is unforgivable. For me, this is fraud-the betting public was misled and both should be held accountable. If this was Dutrow or Mullins they’d be convicted already. Another very black eye for racing delivered by high end participants when the lights were on.

  6. Pingback: Starting From Scratch on Day 2 of Breeders' Cup - NYTimes.com

  7. Pingback: Starting From Scratch on Day 2 of Breeders' Cup - NYTimes.com

  8. Thanks for the comments, folks, and my apologies for the delay in responding. I think that it was a tough situation for everyone involved: scratching a horse at the gate in any race, but even more in the Breeders’ Cup (and just think: it would have happened to Pletcher in two consecutive Breeders’ Cups), is not to be taken lightly.

    I’ll be interested to see the results of the KHRC investigation; as DJ Loo notes, the facts don’t seem to be clear, even at this point.

    I don’t think that I’m willing to ascribe bad motives yet to anyone involved, until we have a little more information.

    Fortunately, Life At Ten came back fine. We can’t say the same for the bettors, without whose money we don’t have a sport at all. And please don’t read that to mean that bettors’ interests should be considered above equine welfare, just that they can’t be disregarded, either.

  9. Are we so sure Life at Ten came back fine? She got around the track in one piece, that’s all I’ll say. I’ll be very interested to see whether she, in fact, is “fine” physically, going forward (or if we’ll ever know whether she is).

    With the utmost respect to Mr. Cassidy (I do remember your voice well as a NYRA announcer and so miss hearing it), I understand and accept that racing is a business, but it’s one that has at its core magnificent creatures that depend on us to to do the right thing by them. If they aren’t as important a factor, if not the most important factor, as the dollars that drive the game and drive the decisions that those charged with making hard choices where the horses are concerned, then we ought to devise some horsepower machines, ala NASCAR, and let mechanical approximations of equines be the source of our entertainment and financial gain for pari-mutuel wagering and purse money purposes.

    Thanks to ESPN for being the conduit by which this travesty of “horsemanship” played out live in real time for a national viewing audience, for I’m sure that such dubious decisionmaking about a hapless horse’s fate occurs more often than not behind the scenes and viewing and betting public is none the wiser.

    I also accept (from personal experience) managing horses’ health and soundness is not a perfect science, but there is no denying something went horribly wrong all along the line for Life at Ten on Friday evening. Let’s hope that those who are charged with her protection every step of the way are held accountable for their actions (or inactions) and that the viewing and betting public get an answer to the question of why such a debacle occurred. We all deserve nothing less, and, most of all, Life at Ten deserved far better.

  10. Leslie:

    At the risk of drifting off into an extraneous sidebar, I didn’t make myself clear in the above commentary. In fact I was attempting to poke at the Breeders’ Cup people, the state of Kentucky as it relates to horseracing and Churchill Downs. I agree with you in every thought you expressed regarding the importance of horses and our moral obligations to them. You are correct.

  11. At the risk of extending the sidebar a moment further, I thank you, Mr. Cassidy. I took your original point, unfortunately, and wholly agree with you, but I appreciate the clarification and your concurrence.

    To return to the topic at hand, I would direct BB readers’ attention to the Nov 8 follow-up article by Jennie Rees in the Louisville Courier-Journal posted online that provides a response from Kentucky’s chief state steward John Veitch.

    I would submit that “unsoundness” is not the only reason a horse clearly displaying obvious symptoms of physical distress should be scratched. To suggest that none of the licensed parties involved here perceived Life at Ten’s pre-race condition as acceptable for racing is quite simply, ludicrous. They all did. They should have done something about it and they did NOT. If they didn’t see the filly’s distress as consistent with tying up, then they all need to have their eyes examined, their licenses suspended and be required to be retrained thoroughly on the subject of tying up before they’re allowed to practice their professions again to the detriment of yet another other vulnerable horse.

    To further suggest that a pre-race dialogue between news media and riders be prohibited is, of course, to be expected, when the media shines a light on the incompetence and abuse that occurred in this instance. Baloney. I’ve been in government media relations so I know the drill. Like it or not, you’re all on notice that the media and the public are watching and will insist that the lights keep shining on until situations like this stop occurring.

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