In the wake of the recent Ernie Paragallo conviction in New York on 33 of 34 counts of animal cruelty, Bonnie Erbe, a journalist and television host voiced her take with a newspaper opinion piece titled “A Lesson for All Who Breed Animals.” Ms. Erbe’s harangue is a particularly egregious example of the one-sided negative articles that have been written about horse racing. Consider the dialogue in just part of the essay:
“Thoroughbred racing is a dying sport because it relies on slots and gambling to keep it afloat. But gamblers no longer need rely on race tracks for a fix. There’s Internet gambling, casino gambling, heck, even buying lottery tickets, if bettors are so inclined.
If breeders’ incentives went away and interest in thoroughbred racing were allowed to die a natural death, untold thousands of horses would be spared the hell on Earth of being brought into the world, to be overworked, over-raced and then sent off to slaughter.
Thoroughbreds are hardly the only equines or animals that are over-bred. The American Quarter Horse Association is the largest equine breed registry in the world.
And we all know millions of cats and dogs are killed at shelters each year because there are too many of them.
Nonetheless it’s a simple fact that if thoroughbred breeding were restricted, fewer horses would be shipped to slaughter.”
Following are a half dozen brief observations concerning Ms. Erbe’s assertions and proposed remedies.
First, racing may be a sport in a downsizing mode but it is hardly “dying.” In spite of a severe recession that has taken its toll on sport, entertainment, and gaming in particular, pari-mutuel handle on Thoroughbred horse racing in the United States is still over $12.3 billion annually–which is more than movie-theater revenues. Harness racing adds at least a couple of billion dollars more. In such venues as Hong Kong, Japan, and Sweden, horse racing is enormously popular and pari-mutuel betting handle is buoyant. Like horse racing in the United States, Major League Baseball is not nearly as popular as it once was either, owing to competition and other factors, but no knowledgeable observer has concluded that it is dying.
Second, Ms. Erbe used a broad brush to paint all people who wager on any kind of gaming as needing a “fix.” Talk about a generalization. This is like saying that everyone who drinks an alcoholic beverage needs it for a “buzz.” While some gamblers overdo it, the vast majority do not. Many people like the intellectual challenge and/or entertainment of handicapping horse races or playing poker or blackjack, within their means.
Third, the Paragallo case did not concern racehorses being “overworked, over-raced, and then sent off to slaughter.” The poor animals were malnourished on the Paragallo farm.
Fourth, linking the entire Thoroughbred and Quarter Horse enterprises to the Paragallo criminality exemplifies guilt by association, slander at its cowardly best of countless animal-loving good folks. No racing owner, trainer, fan, or whomever, with a functioning conscience, would look at the pictures of Paragallo’s neglected horses without a sense of extreme sadness and moral outrage. However, Ms. Erbe chose to use the Paragallo incident, a sample size of one, to generally indict people who own Thoroughbreds and Quarter Horses (Standardbreds evidently got a pass). There is no reference whatsoever to the numerous people and organizations who work mightily to make for safer racing and to save former racehorses from slaughter; people like Texans Dallas and Donna Keen, who both train racehorses and operate a rescue facility at a deficit that they cover out of their own funds. One can easily find a litany of such efforts in the racing sport/business, which Ms. Erbe perhaps neglected to research and mention in her condemnation—or maybe she did know but chose not to provide these facts in order to bolster her denunciation. Would Ms. Erbe think it fair to disparage the morality of all money managers over the Bernard Madoff fraud? Should we ban investing because Madoff and others like him ruined so many lives?
Fifth, Ms. Erbe correctly said that “millions of cats and dogs are killed at shelters each year because there are too many of them.” Would she prefer that we curtail or outlaw dog ownership because irresponsible people won’t have their animals spayed or neutered? Maybe the United States should adopt the strict one-dog policy of many Chinese cities? The Associated Press reported in 2009 that China’s enforcement measures in Guangzhou were being “instituted in other parts of China with reports of often cruel results, including allegations of authorities sweeping through neighborhoods and beating pets to death in front of their owners.”
Sixth, Ms. Erbe regaled with this histrionics-laced logic: “If breeders’ incentives went away and interest in thoroughbred racing were allowed to die a natural death, untold thousands of horses would be spared the hell on Earth of being brought into the world, to be overworked, over-raced and then sent off to slaughter.” This is like saying that “untold” millions or billions of people would be better off if human reproduction were to be curtailed or stopped entirely because some among us are born into abject poverty and/or are denied basic rights by oppressive governments. Ms. Erbe’s solution is based on her (superior?) judgment about who should be born and who should not.
The usual recipe in attack articles like Ms. Erbe’s is to use emotionally charged words, intersperse a grain of truth here and there, paint an entire industry with a negative brush and do so on the basis of an unrepresentative sample, engage in guilt by association, provide as few metrics as possible, and avoid a balanced analysis of the facts.
Ms. Erbe is a skilled crafter of syntax. But at least in her article on horse racing, her reasoning was specious. Moreover, she did not even attempt to present a two-sided evaluation. Call it fashionable bashing.
Like all human endeavors, horse racing has its strengths and weaknesses and the sport is sometimes embarrassed by the actions of deviants. To be sure, perfect it is not. Yet a modicum of research would find that the industry has many benefits and is seriously pursuing multiple initiatives to address its recognized areas for improvement. Problems in racing should be discussed openly, but in a thoughtful and factual way in order to develop realistic alternative courses of action.
Ernie Paragallo and his ilk do not represent horse racing any more than despicable small-animal abusers represent families who cherish their dogs and cats as family members.
Whenever you see a hatchet job like Ms. Erbe’s, try to contact the author. Be respectful, don’t be emotional or insulting, focus on facts and examples, and ask for a fair assessment in the future. It won’t matter to people who have an ax to grind, but some may listen.
Copyright © 2010 Horse Racing Business
For the full text of Bonnie Erbe’s article, click here.