President John F. Kennedy, in his commencement address at Yale University in 1962, made a distinction among truth, lies, and myths that offers timeless wisdom for leaders in all sorts of industries and organizations, including those in horse racing in 2013.

“For the great enemy of truth is very often not the lie–deliberate, contrived and dishonest–but the myth–persistent, persuasive, and unrealistic. Too often we hold fast to the clichés of our forebears. We subject all facts to a prefabricated set of interpretations. We enjoy the comfort of opinion without the discomfort of thought.”

Horse racing is a sport and an enterprise based on both a deeply embedded tradition of how things have always been done and modern science and technology. The techniques of training racehorses are passed down through the generations, but trainers also rely on the latest in veterinary medicine. Old-time theories of mating stallions and mares are adhered to today, but computer analyses of large databases are employed to capitalize on findings from advanced genetics. Handicappers combine heuristics with software algorithms that churn out speed and pace figures.

It some cases, it is easy to separate truths from the myths that have taken root and are relied on as gospel. For example, while some people consider the current Triple Crown format inviolable, the historical record shows that the three races have been held in different sequences, at varying distances, and with shorter and longer gaps between races.

Other issues are more complex. In the controversy over race-day use of furosemide, one school of thought advocates a return to a time when trainers ran their horses on oats, hay, and water, but furosemide proponents counter that conditions are different now, with year-round racing. Similarly, whereas most horse registries have permitted artificial insemination and embryo transfer, the Thoroughbred breed has steadfastly resisted, mainly on the grounds that it would be harmful to the gene pool and stud fees.

The task of industry and company leaders in racing should be to objectively seek out and evaluate facts, in order to determine the best way of proceeding, even when doing so may debunk “a prefabricated set of interpretations” and ruffle feathers.

The decision-making processes in any industry or organization need to be carried out with a healthy respect for time-honored practices, but also with a willingness to test the validity of the underlying assumptions.

Copyright © 2013 the Blood-Horse.  Used with permission.