“I just like to be there when the charge begins, whether the horses emerge from the starting gate, walk up to a tape as they used to when I was a boy, or come bursting out of a clump of trees at Auteuil steeplechase course in Paris.”
Ah, the good old days half a century or more ago, when Thoroughbred racing and language were at the top of their game. No one knew that better than my longtime CBS broadcast colleague Heywood Hale Broun, he of the merry mustache, the loud jackets and the suitcase full of words, oh what words! We could use more than a little bit of Woodie's wisdom during these dark days at Santa Anita, which are having unstated repercussions at every track across America. The cries have gone out. Will racing survive this abysmal and abnormal loss of Thoroughbred lives.? We need to be reminded of what it is we stand to lose, the essence of what racing is all about.
Here is what racing was all about to H.H. Broun, “I must say that mirth, peace and amity are what I have found at a variety of tracks, from old Agua Caliente, where, in the glory days, beautiful girls came to your clubhouse table to take your money and returned it appropriately augmented when you won, to the old Empire City Race Track in Yonkers, whose bucolic air belied the urban setting, to countryside racing of farmers' horses in Opelousas, Louisiana.”
The Thoroughbred in these United States dates back to the Virginia and Maryland colonies in pre-Revolutionary days. The American Stud Book goes back to 1868 when organized racing began here. We'd be throwing a lot of history down the drain if we listened to the uninformed naysayers, who would like nothing better than to see an end to the sport because of the recent spate of tragedies in California. What to do?
The deadly silence coming from all of the state racing commissions that regulate the sport in this vast country tells us that we are at a watershed. You would think that the political appointees — hacks some of them — who serve on these boards would do anything to keep these plush positions. After all, their jobs would go up in dust if racing were banned. And what about the track owners? No outcry from them either. Get the racing surface right in Santa Anita, hire a few more vets and all will be forgiven and forgotten. Until the next time it happens.
There's been a lot of gnashing of teeth about all this, but few concrete solutions offered. Then there's Arthur B. Hancock III, master of Kentucky's Stone Farm, who can always be counted on in a time of trouble. He is fearful for the sport he has devoted his life to. The only hope he sees is that the politicians in Washington will soon take some action on the Horseracing Integrity Act, which would deal with the drug and medication issues plaguing the sport. Although this legislation has been pending in one form or another for five years, and in Washington's toxic political atmosphere that may seem like a dream, Arthur may be on to something.
The House members sponsoring the legislation are Andy Barr of Kentucky and Paul Tonko of New York. All the influence peddlers in racing need to gather their forces and put pressure on those Congressmen to hold televised hearings now. And then bring in the big guns — not the bureaucratic figures from the last Washington hearing, but telegenic figures like Arthur Hancock, Belinda Stronach, Gary Stevens, Jay Hovdey, Tom Hammond, Bob Baffert to name just a few — folks of all stripes who love this business and have the charisma to get the message out.
I spent 40 years as a producer of television programs for CBS News and I know the power of the tube. John Q Public needs to be educated that there is more to racing than drugs, whips and dead horses and that this is an industry in which probably a million people go to work every week, a multi-billion dollar industry, an industry that desperately needs a unifying body to deal with the drugs and whips and dead horses.
And don't let those politicians forget that this is also an industry which has given us the greatest athlete in the history of all American sports — Secretariat. My old pal Woodie Broun once wrote, “In his totality like such brothers in beauty as the eagle, the lion and the hunting leopard, Secretariat reminds us that Darwin and his theory of natural selection left out poetry, a factor unmeasurable, unnecessary and yet unbearable to be without.”
The ball's in your court, “Industry Bigwigs.” Stand up, unify and be counted. Don't wait till the next time. You could be the last straw stirring the last drink.
E.S “Bud” Lamoreaux III is a creator and former executive producer of CBS News Sunday Morning with Charles Kuralt. He won four Eclipse Awards for national television excellence.
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