Smack Downs Abound

(Sarah K. Andrew)

Before we gear up for an excellent weekend of racing it’s worth noting a few interesting smack downs, some smackier than others.

Alex Waldrop turned in the most web savvy move seen by racing executive to date with his timely reply to Joe Drape’s recent NY Times article “Derby Nears, but Safety Rules Don’t“. It seems as though the message that Web 2.0 isn’t just a collection of platforms but an overall approach has been has been signed, sealed and delivered!

Waldrop quickly and directly speaks to the points raised in Drape’s article (with extra points for the title “Five Facts You Won’t Read in the New York Times”), which is what all that crazy enabling technology is meant to do… you know, enable timely, appropriate responses. But the most savvy move might have been the 1-2 punch of promotion & call to action, asking people to directly communicate with Drape while providing his email and twitter stream. That’s a move anyone could be proud of, well done sir!

Regardless of where you come down on this family feud, it’s execution was noteworthy. Sure, Drape is taking a stand to make a point and good for him… he has a forum and some good points. However, this sentiment:

Gosden, Mafaaz’s trainer, insists that a healthy 3-year-old should not need medication to race. He should know; he worked in California in the early 1980s when he trained two Eclipse champions. In October he brought Raven’s Pass to Santa Anita and upset the United States’ two-time Horse of the Year, Curlin, in the Breeders’ Cup Classic.

conveniently leaves out that Raven’s Pass ran on Lasix & Bute in Classic, which might not have made his point so air tight. Also interesting to note that it looks like Waldrop’s letter to the editor hasn’t been published (or I just can’t find it, which is entirely possible given that I couldn’t find Davidowitz’s without someone giving me the link).

Speaking of Steve Davidowitz, our next match-up features the stunning akido moves of Davidowitz in reply to racing’s “biggest fan”, William C. Rhoden. While Rhoden’s current article, Horse Racing Begins Reform, but Legal Drugs Are Still an Issue, is somewhat toned down compared previous articles, it still not without it’s moments.

Racing enthusiasts seem to feel that the general public, rather than being horrified, should view these breakdowns the way boxing fans and pro football fans look at catastrophic injuries: as unfortunate but inevitable consequences of difficult sports.

While I would have liked to have seen Davidowitz (or anyone) call out Rhoden’s inference that racing enthusiasts are not sufficiently horrified by breakdowns as an inappropriate siren song for the ill informed Stepford-esque racing haters, Davidowitz chooses instead to deftly point out that “enthusiasts” and the dwindling racing press are not only horrified but have also been saying the same things as Rhoden for quite some time.

But I hate drugs in racing. I hate them in racing as much as I despise them in baseball, Olympic track and field, world-class cycling and in the locker rooms of our high school and college athletes. At their core, drugs in athletic forums pose dangers to athletes, and they corrupt the idea of a level playing field for fans who root for their favorites or have the legal license to wager on a fair and square outcome.

I am not the only member of the so-called racing press who feels this way and has expressed it in hundreds of forums. But we are a dying breed, with minimal influence, thanks to newspapers’ general abdication of the journalistic imperative to cover this megabillion-dollar sport/game in favor of using wire service summaries and public-relations releases written by racing officials who remain blind to the No. 1 cause of breakdowns and to the collateral loss of public confidence that has eroded the sport’s standing in America.

I applaud you for putting a clear focus on the issue in The New York Times in a nonsensationalistic manner. Your column ably sent a message to racing officials to examine how the sport is failing to see the need to go beyond its improved safety practices.

Any rational human has to know that nothing less than an end to legalized drugs for racing purposes will save the sport for the future. Analgesic drugs like phenylbutazone (bute) and powerful diuretics like furosemide (Lasix) may be beneficial as part of a curative medical regimen. But they do not belong in the competitive arena.

Turning the tables and applauding him while simultaneously pointing out that his assertion is inaccurate without coming right out and saying it deserves another big “well done sir”!

And speaking of alleged drug-free racing, check out Pat Cummings’ Dubai Race Night, great coverage of preparations afoot in the desert.