By Bill Finley
I’m one of those bunny hugger people. I love animals and I am troubled by many things that go on in the sport of racing when it comes to the treatment of our equine athletes. I don’t like all the drugs and I hate that so many horses end up in the slaughterhouse. I believe, and have written numerous times, that whipping should be banned immediately. Nothing is more sickening than watching a horse break down on the track.
Yes, the sport is doing better when it comes to animal welfare issues, but it has a long way to go. That’s why racing needs a watchdog to hold its feet to the fire and to make sure that nobody ever accepts that the problems are unsolvable and that fatalities are “just a part of the game.”
But we don’t have that. We have PETA. Effective watchdog groups are manned by reasonable, well-meaning people. At least when it comes to horse racing, PETA continues to behave like an organization that is way too far out there, way too ignorant and completely unreasonable. These people are radicals. And no one wants to hear from radicals, no one respects these kinds of people, no one listens to these kinds of people.
It’s not just that they accomplish nothing. It’s worse than that. Since PETA is the most prominent and influential animal rights organization in the U.S., they are in a position to do a lot of good things to make this sport safer for the equine athletes and for there to be more avenues to humane retirements. But that’s not what is happening. Say so many stupid things and people just turn you off. When people turn you off, you can’t get anything done. When you can’t get anything done there cannot be a sane and productive debate on the issues.
In its apparent efforts to make horse racing better and safer, PETA is doing more harm than good, and I’m sick of it. With all the rhetoric, all the bombast, all the misinformation and half-truths that they keep spitting out, they just make it harder on the people who actually know what’s going on and understand that there is a right way and a wrong way to make a difference. People lump other equine welfare advocates in with PETA and fail to differentiate between those who have productive things to say and PETA’s radical agenda.
That’s why PETA needs to change its act dramatically and if it is not capable of doing that, they need to go away.
PETA was at it again yesterday, issuing a press release concerning rumors that Justify (Scat Daddy) was injured following his win in the GI Kentucky Derby. Those rumors arose after videos showing the horse parading in front of reporters Sunday morning led some to speculate there was something wrong with a hind leg.
PETA Senior Vice President Kathy Guillermo issued the following statement: “PETA is calling on the stewards at Churchill Downs to order an immediate and independent veterinary examination of Justify and to review all his veterinary records and medications for the last year. He appeared to be avoiding putting weight on his left hind leg at a news conference yesterday–a condition dismissed by trainer Bob Baffert as “scratches” brought on by the muddy track at the Kentucky Derby. However, this skin condition typically leads to lameness only when it’s chronic. PETA wants to know: Has Justify been suffering from a chronic ailment that has led to lameness, or is he injured? If he’s injured, he must not be allowed to race in the Preakness–and PETA is not confident that Mr. Baffert will reveal the horse’s true condition.”
Baffert’s explanation concerning the problems with the leg was a perfectly reasonable one. He told the Paulick Report that Justify had what horsemen call “mud fever” and described it as something along the lines of chapped lips, an irritation caused by constant wetting and over drying of the skin. He said the horse was absolutely fine and that he would not miss a single day of training.
There’s no reason to believe that he is lying, but PETA insinuated that he might be. And this is exactly where they always shoot themselves in the foot, making outlandish claims when then they clearly don’t understand the sport.
Justify is worth an unfathomable amount of money. Does PETA really believe that Baffert and his owners would take the risk of racing an injured horse in the GI Preakness S.? Or in any race? And if the horse were actually hurt, do they really think Baffert is so stupid that he would have shown off an injured horse to the media?
For the rest of his life, Justify will be better protected than the Crown Jewels. If there is one hair out of place, he’s not running in the Preakness. That’s why it’s so ridiculous to insinuate that Justify might be put in harm’s way 11 days from now.
This is the same group that went after jockey Gabriel Saez with an outlandish accusation, blaming him for the breakdown of Eight Belles in the 2008 Derby. Then, of course, there was the covert operation it waged against trainer Steve Asmussen. PETA wanted you to believe that it had blown the lid off of what goes on behind closed doors in racing. But once the hysteria settled down, reasonable people understood that they came up with nothing. That is unless you consider the fact that Asmussen’s assistant trainer Scott Blasi has a potty mouth to be a major scandal.
PETA is right about one thing, that horse racing can do a lot better job than it does when it comes to animal welfare issues. But putting out hysterical press releases about non-issues such as Justify’s appearance on the day after the Derby is not the answer.
Please, just stop.