So how would it work?

As I’ve read responses over the last few days to what I wrote about Thoroughbred retirement, here (below) and in Thoroughbred Times, two ideas have come up repeatedly: the sport needs a commissioner and mandatory money needs to be set aside – from purses, from breeders’ fees, from wagers – and put towards Thoroughbred retirement.

I’ve spent a good bit of time in the car the last few days (Gulfstream –> Ocala –> Southwest Florida), with ample time to mull over these ideas, and by the time I hit my destination last night, I found myself thinking more about the obstacles inherent in these proposals than about their benefits.

Let’s start with the commissioner. So somehow, you get all the various racing jurisdictions in this country to agree to be governed by one commissioner or group of people. And that person or group mandates that x% has to be extracted from purses, entry fees, wagers, whatever. Then what?

Now there’s all this money sitting around waiting to be used for Thoroughbred retirement. Where does it go? Without trying too hard, I can name at least half a dozen rescue/retirement organizations; there are dozens, possibly hundreds, across the country. Which of them get the money? Even if, in addition to the commissioner, we get a panel to approve certain organizations, does each of those accredited groups get a little piece of the pie? Is the money earmarked for certain horses’ retirement? Does each horse get a little bank account, like a 401K, that he gets to activate when he gets retired? How do owners ensure that the money they’re contributing will go to support their horses?

And who decides where the horses will go? Say I’m an owner with a horse that I want to retire because he’s not competitive any more. Do I get to decide where he’ll go? Do I get to pick the farm? Suppose I don’t want to retire him; I want to sell him, to be a show horse or a companion animal – am I allowed to do that? Whose approval do I need to make decisions about what is, after all, MY horse?

Over the year or so I’ve spoken with two breeders – unrelated to the article I wrote –  who have told me why they don’t support the Jockey Club check-off program. Last spring, one said that it’s because she wanted to pick the organization to which the money went. While she supported the Jockey Club program in theory, she didn’t want someone else deciding where her money went.

More recently, one told me that she didn’t donate because there was no way to account for where the money went, or whether it would in fact do her horses any good. These both seem reasonable responses, and I don’t yet see how either would be addressed by a nationally overseen program.

And then there’s the issue of responsibility: the good news about mandatory programs is that the responsibility for Thoroughbred retirement is dispersed. But that’s the bad news, too: as I wrote on Monday, it takes the responsibility away from those whose primary obligation it is to take care of the horses: the people who own them. Passing that responsibility on to others lets those owners off the hook.

I’d love to hear from those of you that think it IS the answer. What am I missing? How would it work? Is it manageable in ways that I’m not seeing?

37 thoughts on “So how would it work?

  1. It also let’s the breeders have at it in a bigger way Responsible breeding is a cornerstone to having fewer unwanted horses but if there is guarenteed retirement to horses not competitive the what the heck breed away Also in response to a questioned raised Everyday we donate money for diff diseases Cancer,AIDS,MS,MD. These donations fund research but they also fund other things such as wigs,and walkers,ambulance trips etc. And after donating you may be fortunate and never need these services but you give to help others So you could view your donation to retiement fund in this same context Just a few of my thought s at this time

  2. I don’t view selling or donating a race horse for a second career as that horse being retired. The retirement comes when the animal is no longer able to have another job, due to age, injury or illness, etc. So the funds wouldn’t come out of the retirement account until that point in time. Sort of the way retirement accounts work for people. As long as I am “gainfully employed” I don’t need to tap into my retirement fund.

    Probably much to simplistic a view of the situation.

  3. Teresa, I would start from the top and work my way down. We need a central national organization, not one in every state, to ajudicate, authorize, conceive, plan, and administer for the sport, the people involved, and the horses. Every other sport has one, with a president or a commissoner. Ours doesn’t. Our sport is older than most of the others, which may have contributed to the decentralization, and in my opinion, it’s disorganization (no pun intended).

    The centralized national organization would have officers and possibly a cabinet to oversee. Racetracks, people involved, and horses might need to be registered with it, similiar to the Jockey Club. There would be fees involved. Registration fees for racetrack each year, yearly license fees for trainers, owners, and jockeys; a yearly horse ownership fee for all horses, a breeders fee, etc.

    The central national organization would have system-wide rules and regulations for the sport of thoroughbred horseracing, and powers to mete out fines, suspensions, banishment, etc.

    Fees and monies collected, in addition to paying salaries, would be utilized in administering for the care and well-being of retired racehorses. A cabinet branch of the central national organization would be responsible for certifying a care/maintenance facility, assigning horses to (for an extra fee owners could select the site they wanted their horse to go to), tracking the horse(s) thereafter to ensure the horses were being well taken care of.

    There is so much a central national organization could do for the sport, the people working in it, the horses, and the fans. I wish that I would have come up with the original idea but, I didn’t. I first heard about the thought when I saw it commented on by John Nerud, who I consider in a class by himself, a true pioneer in our sport. After reading what he related, I just said “Wow!” because, it made total sense. Our sport can be better. Until we have a central national organization to oversee our sport, we’ll continue the petty, sectional, disorganized, inconsistent, and irresponsible approach that we’ve been on.

  4. The central national organization Mr. Song is referring to I believe, is a Commissioner of Horse Racing. If I am wrong please correct me, sir. Every successful sport in the world has one, except horse racing, The Commissioner would not be a breeder, owner, trainer, track owner, steward, jockey or hot walker. A stand alone professional executive,

    The commish would establish a plan for funding retired race horses from the entire racing community in every state who report to him, This leader will be powerful and reporting to him would be the czar of retired horses. This individual would be provided marching orders, a budget and professional staff to implement and oversee the program,

    Important, The czar reports to the Commissioner, the commissioner reports to the Board of Directors, sound familiar. If a situation like the current one involving the TRF occurs, the czar can apply for a job as a hot walker.

    Stand alone charity organizations across the spectrum are difficult to manage. Much of the funds donated for the designated cause winds up supporting the bureaucracy or missing. Somebody needs to oversee this process and hold managers accountable,{commissioner}

  5. In that scenario, Linda, what role should that post-racing owner play in retirement funding? How would it tie in with the racing donations/plan?

    I’m not sure that other sports provide a workable model for racing in terms of a commissioner. Those other leagues don’t, with some exceptions, compete with each other for dollars. The money I spend on NY Rangers tickets doesn’t take money out of the LA Kings’ pocket. But the money I wager at NYRA absolutely means less money for Santa Anita or Churchill. When the entities involved are in direct competition with each other for resources (horses and humans) and dollars, you’ve got a completely different dynamic from the one that operates in other sports – which are sports. Gambling changes the landscape, and I don’t think we can look to those other organizations for a model.

    What you describe, Bob and August, would cost millions of dollars a year. The commissioner would command a salary of at least half a million, and the retirement czar that you describe would need to be paid a six-figure salary as well. Qualified, smart people to run organizations of the size and scope you describe couldn’t be had for anything else. Where does that money come from, in a cash-strapped industry?

  6. Teresa, fees extracted from services provided, including licensure, registration, ownership fees, breedership fees, fines, etc. on a national basis, which I alluded to earlier, would many millions of dollars. Licensure could be yearly or bi-yearly for trainers (and farriers and veterinarians). The same could be done for registering owners and breeders, yearly. Hey, these charges become write-offs under business expenses. There is a lot of money out there, which could be siphoned to do the most good and efficient and equitable job of overseeing and managing our sport in the best possible ways.

    I do not have all the answers. This sport has many things wrong with it, in my opinion, and in the opinion of some others. It is a great sport, and it could be even greater. We recognize a change is needed, and reflecting that it should have happened a long time ago. While the sport of thoroughbred horseracing is esteemed and honored by it’s traditions, this particular change appears mandatory, in my opinion, for the sake of everyone. People are aware of the alleged definition of insanity, aren’t they? Continuing to act to act/think the same exact way, and expecting a different response.

    Once a bona fide movement begins, Teresa, you might be surprised at the level of support it receives from the fans and certain members of racing.

  7. Teresa, The infrastructure of racing would require major revamping, All the little fiefdoms now operating at will would have to be pulled into line and work for the advancement of racing. I an sure the NHL is paid a substantial fee by each team for the right to in the league. Tracks I am sure would like to operate independently but it weakens the entire industry. The current ” everybody for them-selves ” does not work.

    Any entity making money off the services of a race horse would be required to pay into the retirement fund, Breeders,.owners, sales companies and tracks. I am sure there would be more sources of revenue once the slide rule boys took a look. I bet the track going public wouldn’t object to a 50 cent increase in the ticket if it went straight to retired horses. Or even a little from betting winnings.

    The cash strapped NYRA just found 250k to increase the Wood purse. There is money but we need an organization with power to ferret it out.

    I think you could find 10 million for the retirement czar and folks wouldn’t know it was missing. Takes muscle and coordination

  8. I think that you’d get more resistance from the folks that you’re talking about than you’d suspect. There’s already a lot of money being taken from people for a variety of reasons, and I don’t think that people would necessarily open their wallets willingly – and I include the gamblers, who already feel that the tracks are taking too much from them.

    The extra money for the Wood came from Genting, who sponsored the race.

  9. With the right sales work I think you could make the welfare of these retired horses a priority. The monies being taken now go into somebody elses pocket.

  10. And what will happen, if nothing changes? And by doing nothing, might it end up proving even more expensive (monetarily & sport-wise) than making a change? The low one on the proverbial totem pole suffers, and in this case, it’s the horse.

  11. As I Twittered to you – there are Millions of dollars in uncashed winning tickets that our State governments have gotten there greedy hands on.

    As a horse player and horse lover – that money bet on horses should be kept ‘in the business’ and fund retired thoroughbreds. Once the funds are there, putting a plan in motion for executing those funds would be much easier.

  12. Hi Teresa
    Thank you for encouraging this dialogue and especially for continuing to keep this important issue in the public’s eye. I sincerely hope that you will continue as this is the most important issue in horse racing. The push for a national commissioner has become my all consuming passion in regards to American horse racing. Like you, my primary concern has been race horse welfare and retirement for several years.
    I think these are solvable challenges, perhaps not easy, but there are reasonable and workable solutions. So I am an optimist. But none of these solutions will work on any level without a national racing commissioner.
    Before getting to your questions, which are crucial ones, I want to start with what I consider to be the number one principal that should be guiding our great sport: the racehorse is sacred. Sadly it is not and I stand by this position firmly. The industry has lost complete sight of this and the results speak for themselves.
    Mandatory monies should be set aside for racehorse welfare but I do not support this idea without the oversight and enforcement of a national racing commissioner.
    So regarding the rescue organizations, first, under a national structure, there must be oversight of the rescue groups. Too many racing entities and their activities have zero oversight and inspection and the industry has resisted this misperceived interference for far too long. But don’t take my word for it – the 2008 congressional hearings on the horse racing industry validated this claim. There is no credible body with enforcement powers to punish wrong doers on the corporate level. I offer the NTRA’s Safety Alliance and TOBA’s Sales Integrity rules as my example: there is no consequence of wrong doing outside of what the courts can do for seriously egregious behavior, nor is there any substantive consequence for non-compliance to policies. But punishment from the industry? Hardly.
    Taxing the purse structures seems like a bad idea to me. The owners who provide the object of wagers are nickled and dimed to their limits as it is. Just because a relative few of the racing owners ever win a stakes race, the vast majority do not. Many owners are lucky to break even, so the public perception here is distorted in expecting the owners to foot the bill for retirement or rescue.
    I propose two potentially onerous fee structures that are absolutely controversial but to my mind crucial: a) I propose a $5,000 annual license fee for any breeder with the intent to sell – if you cannot pay this fee, you have no business being in this sport. Regardless of good intentions, the fallout of problems continues to give the industry a black eye: we cannot afford too many more black eyes; and b) there absolutely must be an industry fee on any and all sales weighted by dollar amounts by the bloodstock industry. The sellers have an enormous responsibility here. I am sorry to mention names, but on the extreme, and just my opinion, the Coolmore group and Sheik Mohammed to name just a few, or any other party running up the prices on thoroughbreds into the millions have done the industry a disservice and must take responsibility. They must pay their part. It is by their purchases that so many breeders aspire to sell the next Green Monkey. Ditto the separate state breeding programs. In Pennsylvania there are an alarming number of PA bred horses being sent to the slaughter auctions. One could argue that the situation is reaching a level akin to an epidemic.
    This state of affairs is unacceptable. It perpetuates the perception of greed and cruelty that ripples throughout the populace. This costs the industry over and over by eroding new fan generation and pushing away badly needed cash flow. Sadly, and I hear this more than I have ever heard it this past 10 years is that older fans are disgusted with how the horses are treated and how corrupt the industry is.
    Providing programs that create an incentive for homebreds might be an idea worth exploring. It could encourage a more humane climate, add to the sportsmanship and bring ambassadorship which could be marketed by the industry. And there a lot of homebreds racing that don’t get that kind of attention. This could be an idea that the racing industry might capitalize on.
    Owners should have the option to accept a retirement program administered by the sport or the option to go it alone. That is an easy solution for those owners who would like to oversee their horse’s care. The sale of race horses for other sport endeavors should be encouraged and a incentive program could be explored here as well. One obstacle to that would be the current lack of drug enforcement which results in so many crippled and unsound horses dumped on the rescue pipeline.
    To my mind the industry seems to be terrified of the animal rights groups. It shouldn’t be. If the industry could muster the courage, a reasonable relationship could be established. Of course there are extreme groups that no one can reason with anyway but that shouldn’t deter a cooperation with reasonable groups, again and my consistent theme, which could result in the marketing coup of the century. Can you imagine the benefits to the industry? This should be capitalized on – not run away from. A lot of good people are being turned off to racing that could be enjoying and supporting the sport like a lot of us. We need bold leadership here. The racing industry must take responsibility for this unfortunate situation.
    But why is a national racing commissioner necessary? Several reasons: there is too much duplication of effort amongst the 38 racing jurisdictions. Simple economics dictates that this is not efficient and inefficiency is costly; on the balance there is little transparency on the management side; too many entities suffer management unqualified to manage the finances and they are free to operate with no oversight; there are too many other reasons to list here but definitely should be examined.
    How could such a body come into being and be implemented. Here is the hard part but I believe it is possible: there must be a repeal and replacement of the Interstate Horseracing Act of 1978. The congressional sub-committee noted how the Jockey Club and the NTRA and its predecessors have resisted all efforts to overhaul the act for the last 30 years; this has been noted by other parties as well. A case could be made for how the current industry structure is in violation of numerous federal laws such as consumer protection, interstate commerce all the way to the anti-money laundering laws mandated by the Patriot Act. These gaps in compliance and adherence may one day cause such a problem in the sport that it may suffer a seriously unrecoverable situation. To my mind that is how precarious our situation is.
    An efficient standardized structure could prove to be a benefit the race tracks by supporting them and helping them reduce their handle in order to attract more wagers. The race tracks are left to their own devices which is an untenable situation. Because horse racing is a unique gambling enterprise that operates in legal territory way beyond the state level on to the international economy, the state’s racing management and legal structures must yield their redundancies to a federally mandated structure.
    The money saved by superseding the state to state model would fund the national structure, streamline it, standardize the rules and punish the wrong doers who are killing the reputation of the sport. And as I have repeated here, the egregious activities and an unwillingness to take full responsibility exacts a very high cost to the game. By making the racehorse sacred, this principal can guide us all through the myriad complexities of the sport and lead to its recovery and with luck, a prominence and profitability with all of the major sports. All we have to do is do it. I have struggled with the impediments for too long. I made a conscious decision to focus on the solutions instead no matter how insurmountable they may seem. It has taken me a lot more effort, but my conviction is that it will be worth it. Thank you for your time.

  13. Sean, I agree whole-heartedly with everything that you expressed.

    You are correct, there is so much waste amongst the states, performing the same duties and services, so much inefficiency, it is criminal.

  14. According to Bill Finley in an ESPN article he quoted a racing insider as saying ” it’s not our problem” Referring to unwanted and retired horses. If the sport had a Racing Commissioner he would make it their problem and they would contribute to the funding

    This problem of unwanted and retired horses is not so difficult in itself but as long as the sport is mired in tribal rule, the TRF and like organizations will flounder.

  15. Other sports leagues are ownerd by the owners of the teams. Everyone else, the commissioner, players, officials, etc are all employees of the owners. Horseracing doesnt work that way.
    I’m tired of telling Sean why it wont work because he is very passionate about the sport which means something. But I think there is a better shot of the Yankees naming me opening day stater than what he proposes ctually occuring.

  16. With Chuck Simon’s permission, I am cross-posting here a comment that he left on the previous post:

    There is no doubt that we as an industry need to do a better job at caring for our horses once their racing careers are over. That is not to say that there aren’t a lot of people/owners/trainers that are doing a good job at retraining/placing/funding for their horses but far too many are slipping through the cracks. The main problem is pretty simple to explain but pretty tough to solve. That issue is money.

    It is easy to cast stones especially for those who have no idea how much it costs to care for racehorses. The sport is lacking in owners as it is mostly because the economic reality of the game is just so tilted away from owners being able to recapture anything but a small percentage of their initial investments plus expenses. Quite simply in many jurisdictions the purses are too low for potential owners to risk their hard earned money with not only no chance to recoup their money but hardly a chance to even get back half of what they are putting in. And guess what? With our friends at ICE and the dept of Labor about to make our jobs as trainers harder and even more expensive with more burdensome regulations the price of having a thoroughbred in training is going to go up once again. The plain truth is the vast majority of our current owners are already stretched to the point of seriously considering getting out. Naturally the economy hasn’t helped but the economics of the game are still very much upside down. Why am I going on this tangent? Because without judgment based on the morals of aftercare of horses, the reality is a very small percentage of owners are going to be able to care for horses forever at real world prices (not $3 a day which is a mindbogglingly low number). I’m sure some of the righteous will claim “they shouldn’t be in the game if they cant support their horses” but who will replace them? Why must it always be the owners that are supposed to pay for everything? In NY the newly elected horseracing hating Gov (By the old horse hating Gov)wants the owners to pay to run the Racing Commission despite the state taking hundreds of millions of dollars from the industry each year. This after the Jockey Club, horseman’s organization, backstretch fund and Jockey Insurance all take their slice of the owners pie of a purse earning. If the current 2.75% surcharge/tax holds owners in NY will be getting about 35% of the proceeds of a winning purse. You don’t have to be a math major to figure out this isn’t a very good deal considering how hard it is to win a single race on the NYRA circuit. Why the states shouldn’t contribute a portion of their take to create a post-race care fund is hard to figure. Sure the states are broke but if the bad PR continues to negatively impact handle the investment they would make wouldn’t be much different than the loss of revenue from lowered handle AND it could be the rare positive story for the politicians. Plus with the success of so many prison/horse programs there already is a connection of sorts.

    People have to understand where the trainer stands in this entire process. Probably 80% of trainers (maybe higher) in the business are living paycheck to paycheck with owners not really even obligated to pay them. Trainers that take too many moral stands or stands in general often find themselves with a shed row of empty stalls. To think that we should be obligated to pay for the after care of horses that we don’t own is wrong.

    When people say “owners” should pay for the aftercare of horses how do you define owners? Are you including every person that has owned a piece of the horse ever? Or the first person to own the horse? Or the last? So few horses have owners from birth till the end of their racing careers it is something that needs to be more clearly defined.

    The other issue which is not exactly a fun thing to think about but needs to be part of the discussion is the euthanasia of older or infirm horses. At some point you may wind up in a situation where you have to make a humane choice even though it is still difficult to do.

    I believe that this is a problem best solved regionally as anything national is too big and too costly to properly administer. Many tracks have really beefed up their after care programs though it is still not enough. But in the end this whole issue can be solved if we can just find the funds to cover the expenses. THAT is the really hard part.

  17. In my experience, I think the biggest need to address is support and funding for organizations to take horses off the track who have injuries that make them unsuitable for second careers. In my work with CANTER it is these horses with severe career (but not life) ending injuries who are the hardest to place, simply because in this day and age not too many people want a pasture pet around. Again and again these horses become our “urgent” cases.

    There are many, many TBs who transition nicely into new careers and find homes for life through many organizations. That’s what makes CANTER so appealing to me, it sets up horses with hopefully the right buyers at no cost to anyone, leaving donations to go to the horses who really don’t have that safety net.

    It is the racing community’s responsibility to find *good* homes for their horses who must retire, either through a reputable organization or on their own power. And I think that this is where the community does have to step up and do some work. It’s not a simple job, nor is it a quick one. But the mentality of “it’s not my problem any more” needs to change.

    If a horse is placed into a new career or home in good faith by their owner, I think that is where their responsibility ends. While many horses find lifetime homes the reality is that they are a commodity that often changes hands and at some point the responsibility for taking care of them has to go to the people who were entrusted with their care. A retirement fund for each horse is simply too hard to monitor and track. Papers get lost and tattoos fade.

    So, with that in mind, I would love to see some sort of central organization for many reasons, but mainly to insist that each track either create their own retirement program or work with a reputable organization. It could be built on the model of CANTER, providing a space for trainers to advertise their horses free of charge. And it must have an adoption componet for the horses who can’t find new careers. By putting it on a local level each track can address it’s own unique needs. Funding is trickier, and I don’t think I have that part figured out. Ideally I’d like a national fund to support all the programs supplemented by a mandatory track contribution combined with fund raising.

    There is no easy solution here. But someone has to do something. I applaud action that many tracks have taken to address this issue; but we really do need it to happen at every track and I’m not sure how that can be done without some sort of mandate from a central organization.

  18. Teresa: thanks for posting Mr. Simon’s comments. The trainers are indeed in a tough spot here. I would be grateful if Mr. Simon could elaborate further on his view as to why a national structure would be too big or too costly; most especially in how he came to the decision on a cost basis. This is the dividing point for a lot of people debating a potential national racing commission structure. A region by region vs a state by state structure doesn’t make sense to me. As crazy as it may sound, to my mind a national structure would be easier to manage. The regional concept would still leave gaps in enforcement and make decision making just as complicated; what about when one region differs from another regional jurisdiction as to medications etc?; why would the states give up their fiefdoms (as labeled by Jess Jackson, Aurthur Hancock, Robert McNair et al) to a regional structure that will have no more oversight or enforcement powers than the current one. It may be an interesting idea worthy of testing by debate.

  19. In response to Seans inquiry I was speaking directly about the aftercare programs being done on a regional basis. The thinking behind this is that the ultimate goal for an OTTB is a new career, not just standing around in a field. Obviously different areas of the country have unique characteristics that can best be utilized by the people who know the ares’s best. For example the Ocala area in the Winter has an unusually high number of show horse people because of the HITS shows. Someone with familarity in this area could well get a lot more eyes on a potential 2nd career horse than an outsider.

    As for the commissioner the bariers to success are great. Unlike Sean I dont think that we should open the IHA up for fear of what potentially could be placed in there (you know like a 5% Federal surcharge on all bets?) The idea that a politician or group of politicians is going to do what we want them to or put what we want them to put in there is extremely naive. Just look at what happened to the IL horseman this year. Though it was on the state level as opposed to the Federal level politicians are all cut from the same cloth. Despite our love for the sport we have to understand that virtually noone in Congress either cares about our industry or has any desire to help us. They do have the desire to tap potential revenue sources and they do love to set up beaucracires. To think that any body of people within the industry holds enough power in Congress to get them to simply write laws allowing for a completely empowered comissioner and then drop out of sight is laughable. Who does the commissioner answer to? Who chooses the comissioner? If left to politicians to select the comissioner who is to say that the high paying job (otherwise who would take it?) won’t just become a politically appointee similar to what we see on the state level already? So potentially you may wind up with a politically connected apointee who doesnt really care that much about racing and who can be removed at the whim of an election?

    Racing is still very much a regional product. The issues at Portland Meadows and River Downs can be quite different from the issues at Belmont Park and Del Mar. Sweeping mandates proposed by a national commission are rarely going to be workable for all parties. Dont forget that unlike other sports the vast majority of people in this business operate as individual businsses. What about the differences between the Racino tracks and the non racino tracks? How will a commission deal with this factor since the individual state laws regulate the racino’s? Can they be under the authority of both the state and Federal govt at the same time?

    Who will fund this commission? Sean has talked about inefficencies but these are all instate funding sources. So if a state is funding it’s racing commission via a slice of the % of slot machine revenues from a racino, why would it give that revenue to the Feds? If it disbands its commission won’t it simply change the law to defund it?

    There are so many other potential pratfalls but it is late and I am tired.

  20. Whew, tough questions and lots of responses! I’m not sure how future owners fit in to the picture in terms of funding the horse’s eventual retirement.

  21. Mr B Bright
    I keep getting motivational quotes in response to questions. In that vein how about…”The devil is in the details”?

  22. To Bob and Charles: I hate the voice in the back of my mind whenever posting these commissioner debate/comments “Fools rush in where angels fear to tread.”

  23. The current approach is failing. Putting one’s head in the sand, thinking and pretending it will go away, is not the answer. Our horses and the people who make up our sport are our ambassadors. If they are not taken care of and managed well, it becomes a blight for the sport and the racing and breeding industry. I don’t presume to know all the answers. For an industry and a sport that prides itself on it’s horses and traditions, something has gone terribly amiss. Terribly amiss, when the fear of making a change allows the harm and failure to continue.

    We are not alone. The groundswell will continue to grow both, with people in the sport and outside, because it is the right thing to do. If we can’t take care of our horses, and successfully take care of and manage the people in the sport, then we’re just another morally bankrupt and failed business.

    Other voices:

  24. Mr. C Simon,

    As I read thru the 20 some responses to Teresa’s question there are some common terms frequently mentioned in the blogs. Breeders, owners, trainers, retired horses, after care and a plethora of initials for support and satellite organizations.

    Horse Racing from my vantage point is in a death spiral. Fix horse racing and forget about all the above in the short term. If the sport goes south then we don’t need to be concerned about any of the above.

    Horse Racing is the array of tracks staging horse races for profit to include betting interests. These tracks need to be vibrant, financially healthy and stand alone. Without this the sport and all things connected are doomed..

    The breeding industry has contributed greatly to the demise of racing. Selling bloodstock is the main focus and racing is a marketing tool. Breeders and owners have their fingers in every aspect. It is called a conflict of interest.

    I read where Elizabeth Taylor was in over 50 films, she was a star. Uncle Mo could be a star but we won’t see him much. His connections are planning how to get the most by racing as little as possible. For the tracks to succeed they need patrons willing to pay admission and then bet. The stars are the horses, the more famous the better. You get famous by being beautiful and appearing in 50 films. Uncle Mo, OK in the beauty area but will be lacking as a marquee attraction. Contrary to some opinions you need fans.

    Our patient is horse racing, on life support with a sucking chest wound and a myriad of broken bones. The current thinking is to fix the broken bones first and worry about the sucking chest wound later.

    The root of the problem is we need to fix the sport of horse racing first, now. There will be collateral damage and great outcry, Casualties for sure,

    This doesn’t solve the problem or maybe answer all the questions but I am illuminating the right area, I believe. Once the main problem is solved and the horse starts pulling the cart instead of pushing it, things will fall into place.

    Commissioner, no commissioner, blue ribbon panel, tribal war lords, who cares.

    Best I can do.

  25. We dismiss, I think, what Chuck says at our peril. Who has talked to horsemen to hear their ideas, to get their input? Who has examined finances to verify the viability of additional charges? Who has polled horseplayers to gauge their reaction to having more money taken from them, especially when their gambling dollars go much further in other venues?

    If a proposed NYS law goes through, purses will be taxed further, decreasinng owners’ income further. Gamblers already feel that take-out is too high.

    The government already penalizes horseplayers in ways that it doesn’t penalize other gamblers. The government has poorly served both Kentucky and New York racing. How might a a national, government entity serve the racing nation any better?

  26. Teresa I think sometimes when I question the viability of a commissioner people mistakenly believe that I am happy with the status quo. Of course this is not true. However getting to where we need to be is not only a tricky path but there is a wide difference of opinion on exactly where that path ultimately leads.

  27. Race horses are only one aspect of the problem. How do those organizations that govern non-racing horses handle the same problem? How do they care for their horses no longer usefull to them or do they?

  28. What horsemen think doesn’t mean a thing in the grand scheme of things. They will follow whatever path horse racing takes. Horse racing needs leadership and everybody involved to date has demonstrated they can’t lead or think out of the box. The government will continue to take money because the sport is weak.

  29. “What horsemen think doesn’t mean a thing in the grand scheme of things.”

    With all due respect, Bob, that’s not the approach that I’d suggest taking with the very help people whose help is not only desirable but necessary.

  30. Teresa, Nobody has listened to horsemen yet. The fate of horse racing rests in the hands of politicians and race track management. Whatever direction they take will impact all facets of the TB industry. Influential owner/breeders have some impact. Horsemen making a living on the track are considered labor and although they may have some input they are not part of the management process. No different from any other industry. If they were a union they would have more clout.

    If the tracks were to close everbody is out of business. Race track horsemen will adjust to whatever direction the sport takes.

    The fate of unwanted and retired race horses is a very small part of a much larger problem.

    Horses and horsemen are the most visible symbol of racing but they are still just labor.

  31. Teresa, at risk for suggesting that you may be guilty of playing devil’s advocate, asking for our comments and opinions and, then arguing with us because they differ from your opinions.

    I am a fan. I have been an owner. And, currently I am involved in breeding. I fully recognize it is a tough sport and industry. The highs are very high and, the lows are very low. The opinions I expressed were stated from the experiences and perspective of my stated roles. I, too, have spoken with trainers and other owners, not to mention friends, who are racing fans, too. We are appalled at the lack of uniformity concerning the rules of racing, and their enforcement. We shake our heads at the “wrist slaps” for the repeat perpetrators for the most egregious offenses. My trainers are highly responsible. To my knowledge, my trainers have never been suspended for using illicit drugs on any of their horses. We shake our heads that the current system has enabled the offenders to continue to thrive. The people in charge are supposed to be responsible. They are supposed to protect the sport, and those individuals, who abide by the rules and regulations. But, they don’t. There has been a “good ol’ boys system” largely in place, in many areas, and the resistance to change what has been going on, has been snail-like. Why did it take a public letter from a former officer of the New York State Racing and Wagering Board, asking the members of the current Board to review the record of Richard Dutrow, and whether he should be allowed to continue to hold a license to train horses? California has been dealing with a similiar problem. But, these particular issues have been going on for years, and at many other locations.

    While I love the sport of horseracing and cherish my involvement thus far, I have absolutely zero confidence in the ability of the current system to equitably “adjudicate, authorize, conceive, plan, and administer” to the sport and, the people involved. The current system is culpable and inefficient. It needs to be changed. The petty, regional “fiefdoms” (as Mr. Bright so accurately named it, and I whole-heartedly agree), need to be undone. A central national organization and authority needs to be created. I doubt that scattered, regional, petty fiefdoms will have the wherewithall and ability to handle the retired horse issue successfully. Another reason why, I believe a central national organization needs to be created, so it can address the problem.

    I read your opinions as well as those of Mr. Simon on this particular topic. I respect your opinions but, I completely disagree with most of them. I am aware our sport is unfairly treated compared to others sports. I’m aware of the legislation trying to be pushed through in New York to tax purses more. I am aware that trying to change the Interstate Horse Act has risks. It does not deter me in my thinking. It is also vital that our retired horses be properly cared for and maintained. For a system that I staunchly believe is flawed, and responsible for most of the sport’s/industry’s current largest problems, I find it a bit ironic, that you would fear the type of change a central national organization would bring. Especially, since that system we’re under has had all these years to allegedly work on the problems/issues, and didn’t handle them so well, in my opinion. But, I am not alone, as you can tell from Mr. Bright and Mr. Kerr. And if you read the article that I posted on: Other voices, you can see some significant others, who believe it’s time the system was changed.

    Teresa, I think you do incredible work, and have a tremendous passion for the sport of horseracing and the people involved in it. But, so do I, and so do many of the others that take the time to comment here.

  32. Jerry, that’s a great question. It’s my understanding (and this may be an unrelated observation) that Thoroughbreds make up a relatively small percentage of horses that end up in slaughter houses and at auction, which would suggest that other industries face similar problems.

    August, if I were playing devil’s advocate, I’d so so openly. And I do respect the opinions of others here…I DID, truly want to hear how these systems proposed would be viable, and that’s why I asked. Given my understanding of the realities of the business, which admittedly isn’t comprehensive, but I have talked to owners, trainers, writers, breeders, gamblers, and those in the rescue/retirement community, and I haven’t seen anything that would address realistically the questions that I raised above.

    I’d love to have my opinion changed, but I think that solutions that require significant financial investment from an ailing industry are non-starters. If that’s where the solutions begin – taking more money from gamblers, trainers, and owners – I don’t think that we’ll get anywhere.

    Jen, I didn’t thank you for weighing in with your experience at CANTER, which seems to be a successful model, and I agree that owners have to take in horses as though they would be the last owner, with the means to keep and take care of that horse for life, and without relying on previous owners.

    So perhaps we’ve taken this conversation as far as it can; thanks everyone for commenting to a great, thoughtful conversation that, despite being full of disagreements, as remained respectful and civil.

    Shall we move on to this weekend’s racing?

  33. Teresa,
    I enjoyed the spirited debate and respect your stance.

    When I worked at the NY tracks in the 70’s I was around some terrific horsemen and even better horses. Even then to quote Capt Willard, ” the BS was so deep you needed wings to fly over it” Well, the pile is much bigger.

    The plight of unwanted, abandoned and retired horses is an area I am keen to help resolve. I am an older fellow and I cowboy on two mares. Not blooded stock but two fearless, tough little Mustangs. My greatest fear is, I will have to go on ahead first to find new pastures, so what happens to my girls.

    I recently purchased two little antique silver bells and I braided two horse hair strings so the bells can be placed around their necks when their time comes. I will be able to find them in the after life.

    Enjoy the rest of your trip.

  34. August Storm
    Why do you think that a single commission will be anymore effective than multiple ones? Name the one shining star that a Federal commission can be patterned after? One of the issues that any commission faces is due process rights. Regardless of what you think of the trainers with bad reps they still are protected the same laws that we all are.

    The funny thing Mr August Storm is you didn’t really offer any tangible answers to any of the questions tht I asked. You disagree (your words) but you (like most) don’t offer up any real answers to the questions I posed. Once again how is this structure going to be administered and who is going to pay for it? If I commit a violation do I have to travel to Washington DC to have my case heard? What about a guy at Portland Meadows? Who are the “experts” that will staff this commission? Why do people think that a politically created body won’t be filled with the political (ie bad) appointees or members of the “good old boy” network?

    As I said previously I am not happy with status quo. If a national commission could work I would be in full support of it. But until you and the trainers and owners and others that talk about the issue come up with some good answers to the questions I have posed I will remain as skeptical as I am now.

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