Beyer, Shanklin: NY Times’ failure to draw distinctions may cloud results

by | 03.27.2012 | 8:42am

While acknowledging the need for reforms in the Thoroughbred industry, some are expressing their frustration that the New York Times, with its expose on horse racing, is unfairly lumping together Quarter Horse and Thoroughbred racing to the detriment of its investigatory results.  At the Daily Racing Form, Andrew Beyer, who says drugs are certainly an issue that must be addressed by the Thoroughbred industry, writes:

“… almost all of the New Mexico horror stories cited by the Times occurred in Quarter Horse racing – a different sport, with a different breed, a different style of training, and a different ethic. If Thoroughbred racing is supposedly the Sport of Kings, Quarter Horse racing is the anything-goes sport of cowboys. According to the Times' own statistics, the seven U.S. tracks with the highest percentage of breakdowns or signs of injury were all ones that offer Quarter Horse racing – five of them in New Mexico, where supervision was notoriously lax. Yet the Times never drew a distinction between the two sports and did not even mention the phrase “Quarter Horse” until the 48th paragraph of its report. Subtract the Quarter Horse component from the study and the Times might not have a carnage-laden front page story.”

At Horse Racing Business, Bill Shanklin furthers the issue:

“Mr. Beyer has perceptively brought up the subject of “external validity.” When a survey researcher inquires about “external validity,” he or she is asking whether results obtained from a sample can be projected to make predictions about the entire population from which the sample is drawn.

“The Times study does not have external validity in extending the results from its study to Thoroughbred racing (or to harness racing) for reasons pointed out by Mr. Beyer; i.e., the sample included “the seven U.S. tracks with the highest percentage of breakdowns or signs of injury were all ones that offer quarter-horse racing — five of them in New Mexico…”

The Times fails to make the distinction once again in an editorial in Tuesday's paper.  It begins: “Thoroughbred racing trades on bucolic imagery and glossy beauty, but a report in The Times on Sunday documented the real pillars of its success: the casual and continual mistreatment of vulnerable, overmedicated and ultimately disposable athletes.”

After beginning the piece with the phrase “Thoroughbred racing,” the editorial never mentions Quarter Horse racing as it recounts the statistics compiled in the Times report, specifically reiterating the New Mexico tracks.  The editorial ends this way:

“The details are painful reading, but we have heard this story before. The death of Eight Belles, who snapped two ankles at the Kentucky Derby in 2008, brought Congressional scrutiny and promises of reform. But a powerful combination of money, secrecy and inattention has blocked progress and left the industry as compromised and dangerous as ever. This seems partly because of racetrack casinos, which have pumped new money into race stakes and added to the pressure to run unfit horses.”

“Not all owners and breeders are complicit; some are urging reform. Some support a federal bill to ban all racehorse doping. They note that the United States lags behind Asia, the Middle East and Europe in eliminating racetrack drugs. It's a worthy goal, but, as with previous reforms in this disreputable industry, it faces long odds.”

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