Personal Attacks Don’t Solve Mystery of Baffert Horses
“My name’s Ray, and I’m an addict.”
I don’t know how many hundred times I’ve said that since I began going to 12-Step meetings in 2004, the year I spent 14 days at a rehabilitation hospital for a problem that was threatening my very life.
Over the nearly 10 years since then, I’ve discovered I’m in pretty good company. For the sake of not violating one of the 12 traditions of Alcoholics and Narcotics Anonymous programs, I won’t say who some of them are, but it’s been publicly stated by such stalwarts of our sport as the late John A. Bell of Jonabell Farm, the late Joe Pons of Country Life Farm, Cot Campbell of Dogwood Stables, Hall of Fame jockey Pat Day, and former Churchill Downs CEO Tom Meeker that we shared the same disease. To see what they did with their lives has served as a great inspiration to me and to many others who have fought personal demons.
Everyone in recovery from addiction or alcoholism has his or her own story. Not every one gets through without relapsing, and some can never sober up or clean up for any length of time. It is a serious and menacing disease and there’s nothing particularly funny about it.
That’s why I was surprised and disappointed to learn that trainer Bob Baffert took the occasion of Paynter’s comeback from near death last Friday to make a mean-spirited personal attack on me when he was interviewed on TVG following the 4-year-old Awesome Again colt’s impressive victory at Betfair Hollywood Park.
“Ray Paulick, if you’re watching this, Paynter says put that in your pipe and smoke it,” Baffert said in an obvious reference to the “Ray ‘Crack Pipe’ Pollock” nickname with which his good friend, Ed Musselman, publisher of Indian Charlie, has saddled me.
(Sidenote: While I readily admit to being in recovery for drug addiction it did not and never has involved a crack pipe. But as the Indian Charlie motto goes, Musselman never lets the truth get in the way of a good story.)
Baffert apparently is angry because I made a recent reference to a story the Paulick Report broke in April about the seven horses from his barn who died suddenly during a 17-month period from November 2011-March 2013. Baffert was unwilling to discuss it when I asked him about the California Horse Racing Board necropsy reports in April and instead issued a statement from a crisis management firm a few days later. Contrary to what Baffert alluded to, I was not pulling against Paynter in his comeback. I was amazed at the inner strength this horse must have to recover from colitis and laminitis following his victory in last year’s Grade 1 Haskell.
So now, rather than talking about the issue of the seven dead horses – one I’m sure he hopes will go away quietly – Baffert has lowered himself to the level of the Indian Charlie newsletter and made it very personal, and in this addict’s opinion, very inappropriate.
Sudden, unexplained deaths of so many horses from one barn, plus the mysterious illness that nearly took Paynter’s life, are serious matters. So is addiction and alcoholism. But one has nothing to do with the other.