Fred Pope: ‘U.S. Racing Needs International Help’

by | 03.15.2013 | 8:24am

In an opinion piece written for Horse Racing Business, Fred Pope discusses the recent decision by the Breeders' Cup board to reverse its original plan to prohibit the use of race day Lasix at the 2013 event.

Pope asks the question, “Is the drug image here a barrier for current and future generations, or is it just one symptom of the real problem in U.S. racing?”

In order for horse racing to continue and become stronger in the future, Pope feels that horse owners – both here in the U.S. and abroad – must “step into direct involvement in order to protect and develop the sport and breed.”

Read more at Horse Racing Business

  • guest

    From the headline, I thought it was Pope Francis 1 who thinks US Racing needs help. Thank goodness it isn’t.

    • nu-fan

      Yet, I can see why there might have been a momentary confusion. After all, Saint Francis of Assisi is the patron saint of animals. And, on top of that, Pope Francis is a Jesuit. They are known to go where most fear to tread.

  • Tinky

    First, it’s amazing in this day and age that some websites (such as the one linked) don’t format properly for readers using the native browser of the most successful computer company in the world (i.e. Safari and Apple). Any commercial site, or those with commercial aspirations, should be embarrassed by such incompatibility.

    As to the substance of Pope’s piece, he typically, and revealingly seeks to solve the American racing industry’s problems without a single mention of those who actually pay for the end product, the bettors. That’s not to say that owners and breeders aren’t crucial “stakeholders”, but any effort to design a “fix” for American racing without giving serious thought to the perspective of those who consume the end product strikes me as being rather. ahem, fanciful. In fact, it is somewhat analogous to an academic economist (e.g. Bernake, Krugman, etc.) attempting to “fix” or “manage” the economy based on models. Bernanke, for example, falsely claims that there is very little inflation while (apparently) not bothering to actually shop at the supermarket, or at least consult those who do.

    The essence of Pope’s article is contained in two sentences:

    “Is the drug image here a barrier for current and future generations, or is it just one symptom of the real problem in U.S. racing?”

    “The real problem is the lack of a talent-based structure, where like-minded stakeholders who own the talent control a top portion of the sport.”

    The drug IMAGE? Really? Please, Fred, the image IS reality in this case. As to “The real problem”, again, I find it remarkable that anyone could speak of the “real problem” without a single mention of the actual customer.

    • Sean Kerr

      Tinky: I think you miss a major point: if there is no product then you won’t have any customers to sell to. I don’t see the players coming together in any meaningful way whatsoever to help solve the problem. Regardless, owners and breeders are disappearing from the sport every day. Fred is dead spot on. We are losing this game and if the bleeding away of capital continues there want be much in the way of horse racing in 10 years at worst or 20 years at best. That is reality.

      • Tinky

        Yes, Sean, I do understand that if there aren’t enough owners, breeders or horses, horseplayers will have no “product” to support. What I object to is the idea that a ‘top-down’ solution will solve the fundamental problem. That is what California has attempted by raising takeout in an effort to placate owners, and attract more of them.

        It would be unthinkable for a retail store to attempt to expand their supplier base by saying that they will mark up their products, thereby creating bigger profits, without considering how the actual customers might respond to the price increase. And if it repeated such lunacy, it would go out of business. Yet that is essentially the absurd path that CA chose.

        Now, Fred pope is undoubtedly a thoughtful man, and I have no objection to his offering constructive advice to the industry. What I do object to, though, is the notion that a “talent-based structure, where like-minded stakeholders who own the talent control a top portion of the sport” is somehow a likely answer to the sports ills, or that it is more important than basics such as product pricing and ridding the sport of cheaters.

    • carrie

      I have the latest iphone and can read the post with great clarity.

      • Tinky

        Good to know. I’m using a desktop Mac, reasonably up-to-date, and it doesn’t format properly.

  • RJR

    This poster known as Tinky must be a miserable individual. What he says about others in his many posts on the Paulick Report is typically negative and he is a know-it-all as well. His customary mode is to attack and disparage, while trying to leave the impression that he is knowledgeable and erudite.

    • Tinky

      RJR –

      That is what is known as an ad hominem attack. Rather than addressing the substance of my post(s), you resorted, ironically, to attempted character assassination.

      You might want to consider that being seriously critical of someone, or their assertions, is value neutral. It is neither “positive” nor “negative”. You are not alone in your confusion, but it is confusion nonetheless. My criticisms are, with rare exceptions, substantial. You may agree or disagree with them, but the problems faced by this industry will never be resolved by happy talk or “positive” articles and comments. If they are to be resolved, it will happen as a result of critical thought that challenges the status quo.

      • Barry Irwin

        If not for The Tinkymeister, where on a regular basis would readers hope to see the phrase “ad hominem,” I ask you? Can we give the guy credit for at least that much?

  • The success of primarily the trainers to frustrate efforts at ridding the sport of raceday meds is very disappointing. I wonder though if in the seeds of their success that they may have provided the seeds to their destruction. Increasingly, there is developing a bulls-eye on the backs of the trainers as being the “odd man out”, the bullies. So, let that grow and expand. By being obstructionist and not joining in efforts to align the U.S. sport with the rest of the world, they are providing those in favor of change a “bad guy” to focus on. Recent failures by the Breeders Cup, the Graded Stakes Committee, and probably soon to be joined by the KY commission, and others, are disheartening, but I still am hoping we will not let the momentum that has been generated over the past 18 months slip through our fingers.

    • Hemingway

      I’m sure you have given this subject a lot of consideration. While I respect your stand, I would urge you to reconsider your portrayal of trainers as villains in this saga. The U.S., and every other country, have our share of unscrupulous trainers, but on the whole most horsemen and horsewomen are folks who work hard and try to do what’s best for the horses in their barn. A trainer’s reality is different from any other segment of this sport. Theirs is a balancing act of keeping horses fit, happy and healthy while working through issues with confirmation, soundness and yes, breathing (bleeding). You can put forth all the empirical data and case studies you can find, but trainers, and their vets, know what goes on in the barns day in and day out.

      It’s really upsetting the see the angry mob villify our U.S. trainers while telling us we need to take a lesson from the rest of the world. If our animals are so inferior, why do horse buyers from Europe, the Middle East, Asia all come here and pay top dollar for our sub par, drugged out horses? All of the sudden foreign horsemen are all pillars of virtue, honesty and knowledge while their American counterparts are a stain on humanity. The irony is many of the most vocal anti-Lasix crowd, here and abroad, are some of the most unscrupulous, avaricious and hypocritical players in racing.

      Maybe changes do need to happen in this regard, but it can’t be in a hysterical, perfunctory fashion. Issues of bleeding start at the top (breeding shed), not the bottom. What are breeders doing to curb the influx of bleeders and unsound horses into the racing pool? Why is it the end user who always winds up the target of hatred and acrimony?

      If you want American racing to be more like the sport is in other countries, we’ll need to change more than our Lasix policy. Let’s get rid of most of our dirt tracks, short races and race track back sides. We’ll cross our fingers that another rich guy will swoop down like manna from heaven and build all sorts of training centers in bucolic settings far removed from the racetracks (usually in highly developed, populated and polluted areas). We’ll race only on the weekend and only a few months of the year. That’s apples to apples. Anything other comparisons are unrealistic. I love European racing. I love American racing. They are very different.

  • William Koester

    I believe in the interest of of the Lasix debate, the following people should be asked, for the RECORD, if they believe that countries that race drug free on race day are are abusing and treating their horses inhumane. It would be interesting to see just who would agree to go on record for the entire racing world to know what they believe, and who would not comment.
    Phil Hanrahan HPBA CEO
    Robin Richards HPBA COB
    Kent Sterling HPBA Officer
    Thomas Tobin HPBA advisor
    Dale Romans HPBA Officer Trainer
    Bob Baffert Trainer
    Todd Pletcher Trianer
    Kelly Breen Trainer
    Gary West Owner
    Mike Repole Owner
    Brent Jones Breeders Cup
    Barry Weisbord Breeders Cup TDN
    Tom Ludt Breeders Cup chair
    Satish Sanan Breeders Cup
    Helen Alexander Breeders Cup
    Robert Mamfusco Breeders Cup
    Richard Santulli Breeders Cup
    Jerry Crawford

  • kyle

    Fred Pope is Sterne’s Dr. Slop incarnate. Never does he dismount his flagging hobby horse.

    • Sean Kerr

      Kyle: I note that you do not offer a single useful comment to refute any point Fred made, nor to you offer an alternative argument. The slop doesn’t seem to be coming from his end.

      • kyle

        Sean, he’s written the same piece five times. The backbone of his argument, the conceit that successful pro sports leagues arise on a talent-centric as opposed to facility-centric model, is simplistic to the point of pure fantasy. My critique has been made before. I had grown tired of making it in full as he is more relentless than I. I was commenting this time on that relentlessness.

        • fpope

          The strong individuals who started The Breeders’ Cup did not listen to those who said their talent-centric plan was fantasy. Racehorse owners, domestic and international, can do everything I propose.

          • kyle

            There you go again. That is incredibly simplistic – the idea the BC is a great event because it’s “talent-centric.” I love the BC. I know you were around its inception, but a few points: First, an ironic one – the greatest American “talent,” John Henry, was a late scratch from the first BC. His defection, which opened the door to a 53-1 upset by Euro invader Lashkari, may have inadvertently done more for the BC than anything in the event’s history. That $108 mutuel, along with Wild Again’s upset and other big payouts like the JV Fillies, is what defined the BC. Its popularity flows from its gambling-centric appeal. Even if you had a point vis a vis the success of this one-off event, your inherent assumption that the BC has been good for the game as a whole is a highly debatable point. Many would disagree and they would have legitimate points to make. I won’t get in to other sports too much, but to say their popularity arose and flourishes because of a talent-centric model is just not correct. Pro basketball and football are the step-children of college games which are institutional-centric. Even today, the NFL does everything it can to obscure the individual. I don’t think that is talent-centric. As for MLB, for its first 70-80 years it was the anti-thesis of talent-centic, even going so far as to ban a good part of the Nation’s talent pool. Fast forward to today. There is not enough talent in the world to make baseball a success in South Florida just as a century of futility can not dampen the popularity of the game on Chicago’s North Side.

  • forthegood

    Please excuse the lack of veterinary knowledge here but isn’t drug use in horse racing constantly being painted with an extremely broad brush? As in other sports, are there not certain drugs that are beneficial in a positive way that keep horses healthy and able to run, yet are not performance enhancing, giving an unfair advantage? Shouldn’t the health of the horse be the first and foremost consideration?

    • Tinky

      That’s a very good question. It is understandable that some might get the impression that, for example, those who oppose the use of race day Lasix in the U.S. are radically anti-drug, but it isn’t really the case.

      I, and most others who favor more restrictive use of “therapeutic” drugs, do not object to their use when appropriate. The problem is that, in the U.S. in particular, drugs that were originally designed to be therapeutic have been abused badly by many vets and trainers. So, for example, Lasix “helps” bleeders, yet it is used promiscuously on horses whether they bleed or not. Clenbuterol is a wonderful drug to use if a horse has suffered from a lung infection, yet it is also abused in order to gain performance advantages. The same was true of steroids.

      I would say that very view people believe that drugs are intrinsically bad for horses, and should be eliminated entirely. What most (including myself) argue is that they have been abused, and those abuses need to be curtailed both for the good of the animal and the sport.

    • Sean Kerr

      for…(whoever you are): If you are talking about Lasix can you please explain how it is good for the health of the horse to use a diuretic to force urination to lose 30+/- pounds thus depleting the electrolytes, potassium etc BEFORE the race? Other than jockeys, what other athlete in the world is crazy enough to think this is beneficial? It is not.

  • Manuel

    Some friends and I own a claimer at a time. I looked at the financials for last year: training fees: $23,000; vet fees: $9,000. This is the face of North American racing and I’m getting out.
    I’ve also been watching a lot of European racing (I’m there right now) and the most striking thing is the behaviour of the horses on the track. They come out led by their grooms, then gallop out tot he starting point ridden by their jockey. There are no ponies and the horses get a good warm-up before the race. Once near the gate, they circle, calmly, behind the gate until they’re loaded. Very different than the behaviour of our drugged horses.

    • TJ

      Many horses in Europe are actually trained to be ridden before going to the track. Add to that the disallowance of drugs and vet fees decrease, longevity of a horse’s racing years increases. Jockeys might be a bit safer as well. Generally speaking, the horses don’t spend twenty-three hours a day in a 12’x12′ stall. In my opinion (worth two cents to me) the race world in Europe is driven more by care and concern for the horse than it is in the US.

  • who would you want to breed your nice mare to ? a bleeder who needs meds all of their life or non bleeder who did not use meds ?

  • I do think, that an split competion, 1 for the pro lasix and one for the anti lasix, will help to solve the problem. There needs to find an easy way, to come out of these mess. But uptill now, the anti lasix owners are denied a fair chance competing against their own. The proof has been in numerous studies, that lasix is an pure enhacer.

  • Sean Kerr

    Fred: you are dead spot on – well said.

  • Richard C

    Too many tracks, too many races, too much breeding, too many drugs (legal and illegal) — but who’s counting. The industry is not about sports…it’s about TV screens at “racinos” and product for legal wagering on the Internet. For substantive change, it will start with at least 50% of the tracks vanishing overnight and sanity to return to breeding sound Thoroughbreds. But there is still too much cash to be stuffed into the pants of those who will publicly talk about reforms of some type — but make a neat sum of green with the status quo.

    • hadrianmarcus

      “it will start with at least 50% of the tracks vanishing overnight” ….so you won’t mind if those tracks that disappear be from Kentucky, California, Florida and New York then? I’ve heard the argument about reducing the number of tracks and length of meets before. Eliminating tracks just eliminates horsemen and all the secondary markets for breeders. I doubt horsemen in Louisiana, West Virginia, and Texas have any interest in the Del Mar meet or going to Aqueduct in January. Secondly, I doubt all those states that are dependent on tax revenue generated from racinos will be so generous as to give up those tax dollars for the betterment of horse racing.

  • Charlie Davis

    “Perhaps less than 200 individuals worldwide have the means and ability to put aside rivalries and join together for the future of the breed.”

    Like most of his arguments, Mr. Pope completely forgets about the customer and puts everything in the hands of the owners.

    What he’s proposing is exactly what’s going on in CA. The TOC runs everything, makes the rules, and vetoes whatever they disagree with, while the tracks are shutting down one by one.

    • fpope

      The customer is King. But customers do not organize, package, present and promote any sport.

      Neither does TOC.

  • circusticket

    Imagine being on a horse and your life depended on it, whether in battle in the old days or with the Pony Express riding through hostile territory. Most horses didn’t bleed, if any. The horses today have been afflicted with modern life, just like humans, and they’re not healthy. Only healthy horses should be athletes and asked to race. Do you see any humans with high blood pressure trying to run marathons?

    • TJ

      Well stated!

  • Sean Kerr

    Why does the argument have to one sided/either/or regarding whether it’s the customer or it’s the owners/breeders? Aren’t they the two sides of the same one coin? It is both people – not one over the other. I don’t get the sense that either side of the coin is really listening to each other or aware of who their partner really is. And funny enough: the solution is more often more simple than difficult. This isn’t rocket science. Regardless, this coin (the complete relationship) is losing it’s value by the day.

    • kyle

      Since when is it the customer’s responsibility to listen to, let alone care about the plight of, the supplier? On the other hand, it is imperative for the supplier to understand, even anticipate, the wants and needs of its customers.

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