There’s a famous scene in the movie Network where Peter Finch, tired of America’s placid acceptance of the status quo, urges people to go to their windows, stick their heads out and shout, “I’m mad as hell, and I’m not going to take this any more.”
“We know the air is unfit to breathe and our food is unfit to eat,” Finch’s character says. “And we sit watching our TVs while some local newscaster tells us that today we had fifteen homicides and sixty-three violent crimes, as if that’s the way it’s supposed to be.” (Youtube: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=WINDtlPXmmE )
Take a moment and imagine his topic is horse racing. If the New York Times is to be believed, every week, 24 horses break down and die on America’s racetracks (and if it’s not true, it may as well be, since they say it so often). We’re told that horses can only manage six starts a year, and can only do so with hundreds of shots and procedures, and that after they can no longer do so at all, there is no retirement waiting for them and oftentimes slaughter is the most humane option. On top of that, our industry is only able to function because we don’t pay the people who care for our horses a standard wage, and we keep them in unfit living and working conditions.
So I’ve got to tell you, I’m mad as hell. And I’m not going to take this any more.
This isn’t the time for a measured response. This isn’t the time for model rules. This isn’t the time to shoot the messenger, and it’s not a time for band aids.
This is a time for a radical change of the way we do business. We cannot come at this with a pop bottle rocket. This is the time for shock and awe.
I have heard a lot of discussion over the past few days about the proper course of action. A lot of well-reasoned and well-intentioned people have talked about incremental change, and withdrawal times and best practices.
And while I think they all mean well, I also respectfully submit that they’re falling short of what is needed. Way short.
These are baby steps. What is required right now is for tracks and owners to sit down and write our Declaration of Independence. We declare that we are going to start to conduct our business in a radically different way so that the issues raised in the PETA investigation are no longer on the table in American horse racing: the issues of people abusing their animals and their workers.
Racing cannot continue to simply react to another New York Times article every six months. Rather than continue to stick our finger in the dike one more time, we need a framework to build a business. We need to throw our bad practices in the trash and institute a system that will be the envy of the racing world. Nothing short of that will save the sport. In fact, anything short of it will doom it.
So today, I am proposing the following:
1. A new racing association is created, modeled after the world leader in racing integrity, Hong Kong. It also happens to be the world’s most successful. As the old saying goes, you don’t have to be the smartest kid in the class if you sit behind him. Conducting your business at this association is a privilege and not a right. Its principles tenets are as follows.
A. The association has the singular right to create, employ, enforce and adjudicate the best practices, just like Hong Kong, and just as the NFL, MLB and the NBA do in America. Chief among these best practices is the well-being of both the horses and the people caring for them. The employees make a living wage and are offered decent, acceptable housing. The horses are taken care of before, during and after their racing careers.
B. Let’s end the discussion about ‘therapeutic’ medications to allow horses to race. All horses must compete free of medication on race day, as they do in most major racing jurisdictions in the world. Medication at other times, when needed, is administered in a controlled and sensible manner by track-employed veterinarians who have their best interests at heart.
C. The racing association owns the pharmacy, and all medications and procedures administered to horses are approved by the track and come only from this pharmacy.
D. Racing will be conducted on a limited, non-year- round basis. Less racing and more high-quality racing will be the principle.
E. Because racing here is a privilege, the association has the right to ban anyone they deem to be a detriment to the sport. We call this the Jeff Gural rule. If people don’t do right on the association’s grounds, they are no longer welcome there. If a trainer doesn’t take care of his horses, or pay his employees fairly, he can go race somewhere else.
2. This new association should be NYRA’s next chapter, or a visionary like Frank Stronach could go forward with it at Santa Anita and Gulfstream. New York is one logical starting place, and the money exists to do it right. While others may be invited to join in this new theory and to adopt the same standards and practices, this is not going to be a solution for all of American racing. Others may prefer to continue along the path they’re on. We think the free market will prove we’re right–that we have made a product that is defendable and sellable.
The racetracks that implement this model will prosper. This model will offer the American public what they have told us time and time again what they want: racing with integrity, without drugs, that you can believe in, and that you feel comfortable betting on. It will give those who participate a sport they can stand behind and be proud of.
For too long, American racing has been the have-nots in the worldwide discussion. People don’t want to come race here, and increasingly, they don’t want to come buy our bloodstock. And our response has been a pitiful under-reaction of hand-wringing.
We have a chance to vault to the top of the totem pole because we will organize ourselves better than anyone else.
It’s time to get mad as hell. Who’s with me?
P.S. While we’re at it, let’s lose the whips, too.