NY Times wins first annual Stan Bergstein Writing Award

by | 12.04.2012 | 4:58pm

Team Valor International today honored a New York Times story on the role of veterinarians in the use of drugs in horse racing as the first winner of the Stan Bergstein Writing Award.

The September 21 piece “At the Track, Racing Economics Collide With Veterinarians' Oath” by Walt Bogdanich, Joe Drape and Rebecca Ruiz received 2 first-place votes from the 4-judge panel of long-time Los Angeles Times Turf writer Bill Christine, Sports Illustrated senior writer and NPR commentator Frank Deford, Turf writer and 9-time Eclipse Award winner Bill Nack, and Las Vegas Review-Journal Turf writer Richard Eng.


The story examines the wide-spread use of drugs for horses to race and win in the U.S, often with perilous results, in spite of the veterinarian's oath to “protect animal health and welfare,” and was part of a series that scrutinized the prevalence of injury and lack of effective regulation in American racing.

Barry Irwin, CEO of Team Valor, instituted the Stan Bergstein Writing Award last November after Bergstein died at age 87. Bergstein was a major player in harness racing for 50 years as an executive, advocate, writer and announcer, and he wrote extensively in recent years on the common ills of Standardbred and Thoroughbred racing in a regular column for Daily Racing Form. Irwin named the $25,000 writing award in Bergstein's honor to encourage and reward substantive writing on racing's issues.

With Bergstein's son, Al, in attendance this morning at a luncheon at the Thoroughbred Club of America in Lexington, Irwin saluted the New York Times piece as a worthy inaugural award winner.

“While I cannot say for certain that we were in any way responsible for a nominated piece being written, our hope is that by bringing them to a wider reading audience, we will encourage this type of writing to flourish anew in the sport of horse racing,” Irwin said. “The New York Times story was the third in a series. I think I am speaking for a large contingent of horse racing folk when I say that the first two pieces in the Times series presented a largely distorted view of racing that disappointed many of us badly. On the other hand, I am certain that a fair minded group of people would feel that the authors hit the nail squarely on the head in their award-winning third piece. They did a thoroughly professional job in presenting the conflicts with vets dispensing drugs to racehorses on a daily basis.”

According to Drape, a New York Times editorial policy prevents him and his colleagues from accepting the award, in the interest of neutrality.

Irwin selected the Racing Medication and Testing Consortium (RMTC) to instead receive the $25,000. Executive Director Dr. Dionne Benson accepted the check this morning for the Lexington-based non-profit organization, which lists supporting and furthering integrity in racing as its primary goal. Benson noted that Bergstein was an RMTC board member for a number of years and helped bring harness racetracks into the organization.

“The $25,000 will go quite a long way to fulfilling the spirit of the award,” Benson said. “In listening to the speakers today, I felt I didn't really need to say much because you said it all for us. We are in a challenging time, definitely one in which we have drugs at the forefront. The recent McKinsey report said that drugs can be very damaging to this sport if we continue to allow them to pervade the culture and be the front-page story about racing.”

Benson said the consortium has made recent strides in increasing withdrawal times for therapeutic drugs and will soon issue new rules for the use of corticosteroids.

“I think you'll see that the goal with our regulations is to cause an overall shift in the way we do business with drugs in our industry,” she said.

Barry Irwin and Team Valor's Jeff Lowe selected 7 finalists for the award. The other first-place votes went to the Paulick Report's Ray Paulick for a story on horse slaughter and to Bunny Hinzman for a blog entry on Lasix. Hinzman, a 16-year-old, also received two honorable mentions from the 4 judges.

Nack, the author of the definitive book about Secretariat, this morning described his long ties with Bergstein dating back to the 1950s, when as a teenager he cared for one of Bergstein's Standardbreds at a layup facility in Illinois. Nack said Bergstein was one of his few supporters within racing in 1993 when he wrote a major piece on the use of raceday drugs for Sports Illustrated.

“It's a kill the messenger mentality that continues to this day,” Nack said. “I'm glad to see support for this kind of important writing.”

Billy Reed, another Sports Illustrated alum and long-time columnist for the Lexington Herald-Leader and Louisville Courier-Journal, spoke at length this morning about the importance of writing about racing's issues.

“In racing, pro-active is not part of the lexicon,” Reed said. “We have to wait until there is a scandal and then we go around trying to cover it up. That has to change. I think Stan Bergstein, if he were here today, would have felt the same way. Mr. Irwin, thank you so much for establishing this award to honor a great individual and hopefully to try to perpetuate change. I hope you get tons and tons of entries in the future, because that would mean that people are trying to do what they can to make racing the best that it can be.”

  • salthebarber

    It’s odd that Barry Irwin praised and criticized Joe Drape and his associates at the same time. I felt the same way during the three part series. I thought the NYTimes resorted to sensationalism to make their point. But, all-in-all I think Joe’s work was an eye-opener with respect to extent of drugging (legal) going in this game.

  • Glimmerglass

    Honestly for the all the negativity that Joe Drape has poured on horse racing makes him wining this award on par with Michael J. Gill taking the 2005 Eclipse Award.  

  • No Penalties in Horse Racing

    Worst analogy I’ve ever read.   While Drape missed the mark with some phrasing of and he obviously has probably never touched or cared for a horse, it’s not like the reporting was wrong.   Just because horse racing has skeletons does not mean those skeletons should not be brought to light.

  • Takethat

    “According to Drape, a New York Times editorial policy prevents him and his colleagues from accepting the award, in the interest of neutrality”

    Don’t they give out an Eclipse award every year for media writing? I have never heard of this ever happening when that award is made. I wonder why?

  • MA

    I think every journalist can receive an award like a trophy or plaque (and the New York Times would never turn away a Pulitzer), but it’s the money part of the reward that’s ethically questionable.

  • Takethat

    ” Bergstein was a major player in harness racing for 50 years as an executive, advocate, writer and announcer, and he wrote extensively in recent years on the common ills of Standardbred and Thoroughbred racing in a regular column for Daily Racing Form. Irwin named the $25,000 writing award in Bergstein’s honor to encourage and reward substantive writing on racing’s issues”

    I think Mr Irwin may have to come up with another reward that journalists can accept. How many writers are there out there, who write on horse racing, who have influence and are not journalists. Not many I would guess.

  • Barry Irwin

    This will be my last post on the Paulick Report. 

    I told Ray I was done last week. The reason is I am not going to come on here and answer questions or post in a sincere manner anymore is that I am tired of being treated in a nasty fashion by jerks that use names that appear to be real but in fact are not. They take pot shots and slander me. The poster in question is a trainer that used a made up name and proceeded to rip me a new one with a combination of venom and lies. There are some sick puppies out there and I leave them all to you.Some day, when and if a forum exists that has people with verifiable identities, I would seriously consider returning as a participant. But not now, when these message boards are home to jerks like the aforementioned trainer.But this is not what I just came on here to explain. I want to explain why Drape and his two co-writers were unable to accept the award. The NY Times, much to their credit, will not allow writers to accept awards that are presented by individuals that may be the subject of future stories written by the award recipients.When I first came up with the idea of the Bergstein Writing Award, I had my staff media guy Jeff Lowe contact the National Turf Writers Association to see if they would handle it for us. I said that I would fund the award if they would administer it. The NTWA balked for reasons for a variety of reasons, including that Bergstein was known more for Standardbred than Thoroughbred racing.Had the NTWA administered this award, I think that Joe and his co-writers would have been able to accept it. I feel sorry for them because they deserve the award. At least the money went to a good cause, the Racing Medication Testing Consortium.’

  • Larry Burnett50

    Barry Irwin,
    Chin up old boy, “You have enemies? Good, That means you’ve stood up for something, sometime in your life.”  Winston Churchill

  • Thelibrarian

    WOW! I wonder what someone that wrote a true & in context story would get?

  • Holtzmana

    Barry, I for one hope you’ll reconsider your decision to stop posting. Your comments were always sound, perceptive and in the best long term interest of the racing industry. There are always conflicts with those who drive 65MPH on residential roads and slam their foot on the brake only when they actually reach the red light. Their inability to think ahead and their overriding sense of self interest is genetic in nature. Horse racing in the US is in a sorry state because of people of that stripe but it won’t get any better if quality people like you give up the battle.
    Hang in there.
    Thanks for the wonderful posts youv’e provided.

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