The following is an open letter from Patrick Cummings, Executive Director of the Thoroughbred Idea Foundation:
West Virginia’s problems are the entire industry’s problems.
A horrific photograph emerged from West Virginia on October 16 in which it appears a horse, presumably euthanized previously, was dumped in a landfill, still with leg bandages in place. A police investigation is underway at the behest of various anti-racing lobbies, with some reporting the horse may have come from nearby Mountaineer Park. Details are still unconfirmed.
Regardless of the authenticity of the photograph, this is not an isolated example of the mind-bending operation of racing in the state.
That same night at Mountaineer, nine year-old mare Sophie Got Even made her first start since June 2014 in a $4,000 claiming event.
She was purchased as a broodmare, in-foal to Hold Me Back, for $1,000 at the Fasig-Tipton Kentucky Winter Mixed Sale in February 2015. She was then bred to Colonial Colony, dropping Printer Jam, a gelding who has earned more than $70,000 and won a race on October 9 at Indiana Grand for owner, trainer and breeder Denis Cluley – the same person who bought Sophie Got Even in 2015, and raced her on Wednesday evening off a five-year layoff.
Sophie Got Even ran fifth, beaten more than seven lengths, and earned $134.
On Monday, October 14 at Mountaineer, nine-year-old mare Little Red Diamond made her fourth start of 2019. Prior to her first race of this year, on August 21, she had not been seen at the races since October 22, 2014. It does not appear as though this Kentucky-bred by Red Giant produced any foals, but that should not matter. She has been beaten more than 84 lengths in her four 2019 appearances, earning $340.
Runnin’toluvya, the 1-2 favorite in the West Virginia Breeders’ Classic at Charles Town on Saturday was allegedly bleeding from a gash to a hind leg following a pre-race gate incident, but allowed to race, and was eased to last.
West Virginia is not alone, nor is the thoroughbred industry. An Ohio standardbred track ran the last two races on a March card after a horse drowned in its infield lake after getting loose during a race and could not be retrieved. Yes, they kept racing. The Ohio Racing Commission did not comment when asked about the matter by local media.
Horse racing, no matter the breed, is judged by its worst behavior, not its best.
For all of the great horsepeople – owners, breeders, trainers, assistants, grooms, foremen, veterinarians, jockeys, exercise riders, farriers, officials and all other personnel responsible for the well-being of horses – there are, undoubtedly, rogue actors amongst them who do, or have done, unspeakable things.
The beauty of the great farms for breeding and raising new generations of horses in Kentucky, New York, Florida, California and other states pales in comparison to the troubles which are now regularly presented and exploited by those seeking to destroy the industry and its history.
Casino companies which own and operate racetracks lack incentives to grow the sport. Logic suggests they would generally prefer a future without having to share revenue with horse racing.
There are some horsepeople, racing officials, administrators and regulators in some states who have allowed outrageous behavior to fester, leaving a trail of terrifying examples for the world to point to as reasons why our industry, which accounts domestically for more than 240,000 direct jobs and $15 billion in direct economic impact, should be shuttered.
Individual racing commissions and their staffs are in place to execute the rules and regulations governing the sport in their jurisdictions, but at the most fundamental level, they must ensure the safety and integrity of all participants. They license, and therefore allow, the personnel who own, train, ride and assist in the preparation and racing of horses. Many are failing to accurately police the sport, and it is jeopardizing its future.
This letter could suggest that the West Virginia Racing Commissioners – Jack Rossi, Ken Lowe and Tony Figaretti – are all responsible, in some capacity, for enabling such lax administration. But this would be underselling the entire situation.
A horrific situation in West Virginia is an industry-wide nightmare. There should be no delineation about the nature of these and other incidents and the larger sport – these things cannot happen.
Long-time industry participants point to the decades of threats which have faced racing, and still, we are here, breeding and racing.
American horse racing is proving incapable of policing itself – dramatic reforms are necessary to prove that we can exist in a modern society with far different standards than in the past. Racing needs to be administered in a much more responsible fashion. State racing commissions must step up and take legitimate control; the rest of us must demand it ourselves.
Many commissions are stocked with political appointees with little industry experience. In those jurisdictions with commissioners who do have the experience, many are viewed skeptically as protecting long-term interests as opposed to embracing the radical change the sport needs.
The love and passion of horses and racing is shared by so many of the sport’s participants – to an almost irrational degree. Participants young and old absorb a steady stream of attacks with each and every new incident and ponder why they have committed themselves to a business that seems incapable of policing itself.
When change is floated in the horse business, responses are often negative and tinged with reasons why our business could not accept such change.
Get over it. Change or fade into oblivion.
If you care about racing, it’s time to petition your state’s racing commissioners and demand they take their roles and the administration of racing far more seriously. It is in everyone’s best interest, and that includes our horses, to do so.