THOROUGHBRED MEDIA: MAYBE WE CAN BLAME THE MESSENGER

by | 11.17.2010 | 12:46am
By Ray Paulick
When launching the Paulick Report last June, I promised readers that we would provide unvarnished coverage of the Thoroughbred industry, reporting on the large reservoir of news left uncovered by the trade magazines and breaking stories other publications avoid. And I believe the fact traffic on the site has more than doubled in less than a year shows this promise has at least somewhat been fulfilled.


I received call at the time of our launch from a Central Kentucky breeder who wields a great deal of clout in both industry leadership positions and advertising decisions. “Good,” he said about the philosophy behind the Paulick Report. “It's about time. I think the Thoroughbred media is in part to blame for the mess we're in. It's been too afraid to cover the tough issues.”


That comment stung, since he was saying that for the 15 years I was at Bloodhorse magazine I was part of the problem. As the editor of a publication owned by the Thoroughbred Owners and Breeders Association and controlled by an old-guard board of trustees dominated by Jockey Club members, I had to pick my spots carefully when I felt the industry's feathers needed ruffling. Criticism of the TOBA's Graded Stakes Committee and calls for more transparency at Thoroughbred auctions didn't go over real well. “You're turning the magazine into the National Enquirer,” one Bloodhorse board member said to me after I wrote an editorial questioning the integrity of the auction process. “How are we ever going to get new people interested in buying our horses if you keep printing negative things?”


“Maybe if the auction process is cleaned up and more transparent, people will have increased confidence that it's a fair marketplace,” was my naïve response.


I came away from that conversation convinced this particular individual wasn't enamored with the idea of a free press, no matter what the U.S. Constitution says. Great guy to have on the board of trustees for a magazine.


I thought of that board member last week when the industry was awash in bad news on several fronts and Bloodhorse.com was putting a happy face on every story.


— Quality Road, the winner of the Florida Derby, was being treated for a quarter crack, something his trainer, Jimmy Jerkens, said is “always serious.” The Bloodhorse headline read: “Quality Road Quarter Crack Not Serious.”


— Trainer Jeff Mullins was allegedly seen by security personnel treating Gato Go Win with a prohibited substance in Aqueduct's detention barn in a stakes race on the undercard of the Wood Memorial, a race won by the Mullins-trained I Want Revenge. Kudos to Throughbred Times for breaking the story. But California horsemen and fans familiar with Mullins' history could only shake their heads when Bloodhorse.com ran a headline that said, “Mullins: NY Incident Honest Mistake.” To put an even happier face on the subject, Bloodhorse.com then ran a commentary under the headline: “Lets Look on the Bright Side of Mullins Incident.” If that wasn't enough, Bloodhorse.com ran a third article saying: “Owner Not Angry With Mullins.” I'm sure that was reassuring to horseplayers.


— Undernourished and lice-infested horses owned by owner-breeder Ernie Paragallo were found at a New York livestock auction's kill pen, and allegations of malnourishment of dozens more were first reported in the Paulick Report and by Joe Drape in the New York Times on April 3. Yet it wasn't until four days later that the first staff-written account of the deplorable situation made its way onto Bloodhorse.com, and that story was mostly generated by press releases from the New York State Racing and Wagering Board and Jockey Club. ThoroughbredTimes.com did no better on this one, writing its first story on the Paragallo investigation that same day, well after the story had been picked up by other mainstream publications.


(To be fair, Daily Racing Form's Matt Hegarty wrote
an outstanding and balanced article on the issue of horse slaughter, spurred on by the Paragallo investigation.)


Was the hesitation on the part of both Bloodhorse and Thoroughbred Times due to the fact that Paragallo is co-owner of Unbridled's Song, who stands at stud in Kentucky at Taylor Made Farm, a major advertiser with both publications?


I can speak from personal experience that fear of advertising repercussions by bean-counting publishers is at the heart of some editorial decisions at horse industry trade publications. There is a fear by these publishers, unwarranted in my opinion, that advertisers are not interested in reading the truth about their industry.


I think a majority of the advertisers are more like the breeder who called when I launched the Paulick Report and encouraged me to be tough, honest and fair in what I write. They understand that without a strong and independent press, we will continue to sweep our problems under the rug, something this industry can ill afford.

Copyright © 2009, The Paulick Report

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