“THE SPA” BECKONS ONCE AGAIN

After 159 years, Saratoga Race Course has not changed in one important respect: It is a brief escape from societal turmoil and the concerns of everyday living.

The inaugural flat-racing meet at Saratoga Race Course in early August 1863 came in the wake of the most violent July in U. S. history, when the country was split north vs. south. On the first three days of July, the Union and Confederate Armies had clashed in the Battle of Gettysburg, named for the Pennsylvania town where the epic struggle took place.  Between 46,000 and 51,000 casualties were incurred, or the equivalent of about a third of the troops engaged.  Then, draft riots broke out in New York City from July 11 to July 16, leaving 663 people dead.

Only weeks later in upstate New York, on the third of August, bare-knuckles boxing champion, gambler, politician, and entrepreneur John “Old Smoke” Morrisey launched Thoroughbred racing on a track for trotters. One can imagine how the 1863 race meet was a welcome if temporary respite for attendees in a country consumed by strife and bloodshed. 

Today, Americans are experiencing extraordinary political discord, recurring gun homicides, inflation rates not seen in decades, merchandise shortages, unfettered illegal immigration, and Covid fatigue—creating a sense that things have spiraled out of control, albeit not close to the horrors and deprivations Americans of 1863 endured.  But, as in 1863, Saratoga Race Course remains a sanctuary of sorts, where people of vastly varied backgrounds and viewpoints can gather and enjoy life away from the real world, at least for half a day or so.  It’s a place where differences of opinion benignly focus on horse racing and are reflected on the tote board. 

Saratoga Race Course, aka “the Spa,” is the oldest continually operating racetrack in the United States. From July 13 through Labor Day 2022, Saratoga offers horse racing at its best, five days a week.

Copyright © 2022 Horse Racing Business

ABOUT THE GRAYSON-JOCKEY CLUB RESEARCH FOUNDATION’S SAFETY ACTION PLAN

I was at a racetrack recently and a filly incurred an injury during a race and was vanned off.  This is sight no one wants to see, similar to when an NFL player is carted off the gridiron.  While injuries are inevitably part of athletic competitions, the heartening fact-based news is that Thoroughbred horse racing in the United States has made significant and commendable progress since the Grayson-Jockey Club Research Foundation launched the Equine Injury Database in 2008.

At the June 2022 Safety of the Racehorse Summit in Lexington, Kentucky, Jamie Haydon, president of Grayson, said: “It is clear that collecting and utilizing comprehensive data is key to maximizing the safety of our human and equine athletes.”  Indeed, longitudinal data on catastrophic injuries provide a quantitative basis, or a benchmark, for evaluating how well the racing enterprise is doing in addressing the causes of on-track equine mortality. 

The Equine Injury Database published its initial results in 2009 and data are currently available through 2021.  A catastrophic injury is defined as one in which a horse dies or is euthanized “as a direct result of injuries sustained participating in a race and within 72 hours of said race.”  The criterion used to measure how much progress is being made in curtailing the number of deaths is fatalities per 1,000 starts.

In 2009, for Thoroughbred racing only, fatalities per 1,000 starts was 2.00.  In 2021, the figure had decreased to 1.39, or by 30.5%.  Between 2009 and 2021, racetracks experimented with safety improvements in track surfaces, identifying markers for horses most at-risk, how horses are claimed, and other initiatives that the data reflect have made racing a markedly less hazardous sport for jockeys and horses.

The ultimate goal is to have a statistic of 0.00 for fatalities per thousand starts.  While that is a utopian goal, its unrelenting pursuit should continue to produce results.

Copyright © 2022 Horse Racing Business

BAFFERT’S HALL OF FAME MEMBERSHIP

The senior vice president of a well-known animal-rights organization sent out an inflammatory email today criticizing the National Museum of Racing and Hall of Fame for its continued inclusion of trainer Bob Baffert.  Evidently, the group wants the Hall of Fame to revoke his membership for past behavior.  A sentence from the email reads: “The entire racing industry should come together to reject anyone whose success was built on a pile of dead horses and violations.”

In 2014, Yahoo published a piece titled “Criminal in the NFL Hall of Fame,” which discussed individuals with legal infractions who are already in various sports hall of fames, as well as others who belong in a hall of fame but have some objectionable behavior in their backgrounds.  Similarly in 2014, a publication called Complex carried an article titled “The 25 Worst Things ‘Allegedly’ Done by Hall of Famers.” It is quite a list and includes such actions as (documented or alleged) domestic abuse, rape, assault, and murder.  The incidents involve the halls of fame in all the major sports—football, baseball, basketball, and hockey.  Other articles like these have appeared in major publications, including the New York Times (“Hall of Fame Has Always Made Room for Infamy,” 2013. It is behind a paywall.)

When arguments about criteria for hall of fame inclusion come up, the cases of O. J. Simpson and Pete Rose are often front and center.  Simpson was tried for two murders (acquitted) but later was found liable in civil proceedings and was also convicted of another felony and sent to prison.  Today, his plaque remains on display in the NFL Hall of Fame in Canton, Ohio.  By contrast, Rose was barred from the MLB Hall of Fame for betting on baseball.  The key distinction between the two cases is that Simpson was already in the NFL Hall of Fame and Rose was not in the MLB Hall of Fame.  One could argue, persuasively I believe, that Rose’s violation pales in comparison to Simpson’s and to some of the misdeeds of a number of players in the MLB Hall of Fame.

The National Museum of Racing and Hall of Fame is on solid ground in keeping Bob Baffert as an inductee.  The obvious precedent set by all of the leading sports hall of fames is to avoid subjecting members to scrutiny once they are in. It is a slippery slope to go back and evaluate hall of fame members on the basis of issues that come to light post induction.

Copyright © 2022 Horse Racing Business