Letter To The Editor: 'Those Of Us Who Love The Sport Should Panic' - Horse Racing News | Paulick Report

Letter To The Editor: ‘Those Of Us Who Love The Sport Should Panic’

In 1975 I was in graduate school, living in New York. It was just two years after Secretariat's Triple Crown and his appearance on the cover of Sports Illustrated, two years after Roe v. Wade legalized abortion in America, three years after Title IX barred discrimination based on sex. Billy Jean King had just defeated Bobby Riggs in the “Match of the Century” and everywhere in New York women were sprouting buttons bearing the name “Ruffian,” in anticipation of the upcoming match race between the great undefeated filly and Foolish Pleasure, that year's Kentucky Derby winner: the women's liberation movement had embraced the magnificent thoroughbred as one of their own. The race, watched by over 20 million on TV, and Ruffian's tragic death shortly thereafter, marked not only the end of feminism's romance with horse racing; it also marked the beginning of our sport's slow, continuous, decline.

Of course the decline in horse racing can't just be blamed on that awful July day at Big Sandy: increasing competition from other sports for consumer attention, expanding competition for the wagering dollar, the endless cheating and drug scandals, the deaths on some of racing biggest stages – Go for Wand, Eight Belles, Barbaro – and, more recently, the growth of computer assisted wagering, are all part of it, but what is undoubtedly true is that aside from bullfighting, horse racing is the only legal competitive sport where death is an accepted part of the game, and if you've been to Spain recently, you know how that's going. Greyhound racing died because of the public perception that the sport is cruel, and the perception of horse racing as cruel is also reaching a crescendo. There is almost no one in the mainstream media who supports our sport.

I just listened to Steve Byk's Aug. 31 podcast with Bill Casner and Steve Crist, and as much as I respect Crist – he's wrong.

Horse racing is on the precipice, if not of immediate extinction, of irrelevance, and the recent breakdowns of Maple Leaf Mel and New York Thunder on two of racing's biggest days were not just, as Crist states, one-in-a-million incidents – there were nationally televised breakdowns at all three Triple Crown races (the headline of my local paper, covering the Preakness, was “Baffert-trained horse euthanized at Pimlico.”) Every year I watch the Kentucky Derby, with 20 young, inexperienced horses all vying to save the same ground, with bated breath and I think – We are one tragedy away from going the way of the Greyhound.

I've been a horse racing fan all my adult life. I've owned racehorses. At one time I attended live racing fanatically and I supported myself financially through law school wagering on the horses. And I can tell you that seeing a horse break down is among the most heart-wrenching of experiences. The letter by Pamela Wood, explaining why she is leaving the sport, is emblematic of those who walked out of Saratoga ashen-faced those two days – we are losing those people forever to a sport that is already rapidly declining and desperately struggling to create new fans.

You're wrong, Steve – those of us who love the sport should panic. If panic makes us act, panic we should.

I question how much can be done to significantly minimize the risks to an 1,100-pound animal running 40 miles an hour, exerting maximum effort, on legs as thin as one's wrist. Maybe our sport, like bull fighting and jai alai and Greyhound racing, has run its course. But I do believe we can try and that, yes, reducing deaths by even one in a thousand starts is important – if for no other reason then to stem the public perception that we do nothing to make our sport safer. And I don't know, and doubt if right now anyone truly knows, if the solution is synthetic racing surfaces, better policing, more comprehensive pre-race inspections, less breeding for speed and more for soundness, or any of the other answers that have been proposed, none of them, by the way, mutually exclusive.

But what I do know is that we haven't come to this crisis point suddenly. It's been building for decades. Racetracks have been closing everywhere and the dollars wagered by true fans – not by computer-driven syndicates – is in virtual free fall. And our sport, fractured, galvanized by narrow, short-sighted self-interest, on life support and kept alive by racinos and the computer syndicates, has failed again and again to even address the most basic question – how do we unify stakeholders so as to create a framework that will allow us to come to a consensus as to how to make things better? There's a crisis, usually precipitated by tragedy, there's handwringing and talk of the incremental improvements we've made, and then another crisis, and then more handwringing and more talk. And after loving this sport for almost 50 years, and watching its slow, seeming inexorable decline, I've lost faith that anything will change.

I hope someone will prove me wrong.

And that's my view, Ray, from the eighth pole.

Fred Abramowitz
Fan/horseplayer/former owner
Fort Collins, Colo.

If you would like to submit a letter to the editor, please write to info at paulickreport.com and include contact information where you may be reached if editorial staff have any questions.

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