We live in an increasingly polarized world. Red State/Blue State. Pro-Choice/Pro-Life. Fox News/MSNBC.
In horseracing, it's been repeated many times that Lasix is our “abortion issue.” You're either for Lasix because it's good for the horse, and what's good for the horse is good for the sport, or you're anti-Lasix, because it's bad for the game, and what's bad for the game is bad for everyone, including the horse.
Positions have been taken, heels dug in, ears closed to dialogue.
That's not the way life is supposed to work.
No matter how you feel on this issue – whether you think American racing is right and the rest of the world wrong, or American racing is falling behind the international equine community because of our more liberal medication policies – you're not helping the cause by existing in an echo chamber, or by shouting and not listening.
That's why, when Todd Pletcher and 24 other prominent trainers decided last week to put their name behind a proposal to phase out race-day medications, we should all pay attention and especially respect the fact they had an open mind on the issue. They have owners who may disagree with them (does anyone remember Mike Repole boycotting the 2012 Breeders' Cup over the 2-year-old Lasix ban?). Many of their fellow trainers disagree with them. They may have struggled internally over whether or not to take a stand. This was not an easy decision for many of them to make, affixing their name to a position that almost certainly will subject them to criticism.
At the same time this group took this extraordinary step toward the elimination of race-day medication, another trainer, New Jersey-based Glenn Thompson, an anti-drug advocate who wrote a book called “The Tradition of Cheating in the Sport of Kings,” changed his position from anti-race-day Lasix to pro-Lasix. He had his reasons and I respect that, and I especially respect the fact he was open minded on the issue.
In the world of politics, changing your mind leads to being called a flip-flopper. This isn't politics. Horse racing is a combination of sport, science, and business all wrapped around living, breathing animals that have been bred, raised, and trained for a specific purpose: fair competition.
Over the next several days leading up to Sunday's Jockey Club Round Table on Matters Pertaining to Racing (where medication issues will be discussed), there will be posturing and public statements from regulatory bodies, owners associations and horsemen's groups, all of which are likely to be from a heels-dug-in perspective. Let's hope the press releases, which are designed to stop the momentum of those who want to phase out race-day medication, do not make the kind of polarizing statements that came out of the New York Thoroughbred Horsemen's Association on Saturday.
In that statement, NYTHA president Rick Violette used terms like “archaic” and “barbaric” to describe the animal husbandry practices that would return if Lasix is prohibited on the day a horse races. It's the kind of fear-mongering we hear in politics and right-wing media that has convinced one-third of America that the current President of the United States is a Kenyan-born, socialist Muslim. It doesn't do anyone any good.
Violette's knee-jerk reaction is one reason Terry Finley, the founder and president of West Point Thoroughbreds, is running against Violette in an upcoming election to lead the New York Thoroughbred Horsemen's Association.
Finley, like the 25 trainers who signed the proposal, thinks it's time to try something different, to look at how the rest of the world conducts horseracing without relying on drugs being administered four hours before competition. He thinks too many people have tuned out NYTHA's leadership and, in turn, the voice of the horsemen is not being heard on other issues.
It's not time, Finley said, for horse industry organizational leaders to live in bunkers, lobbing grenades at those who don't agree with them. “Unless they are firing heavy artillery at you, it's time to come out of the bunker and talk,” he said.
Wouldn't that be a refreshing change?
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