By Bill Finley
The death of Medina Spirit (Protonico) following a workout Monday at Santa Anita has resulted in a predictable backlash, with at least two media outlets calling for the sport to be banned and readers of some of the nation's most prominent newspapers posting numerous vitriolic comments online.
Here is a sampling of what has been written and said about horse racing following Monday's shocking news:
The New York Post led the charge with Maureen Callahan writing a column with the headline “Medina Spirit's shocking death is yet another reason we should end horse racing.”
“Can you imagine any sport in which human athletes routinely died on the field, in competition, and we simply removed the bodies and kept going? Or one in which aged-out players weren't retired but sent to the slaughterhouse, as about 13,000 Thoroughbreds are annually?” Callahan writes.
She concludes: “The circus is dead. Dogfighting is almost completely eradicated. What will it take for us to save the racehorse?”
Writing for the website Deadspin, Sam Fels authored a story with the headline “Horse racing should be put out of its misery.”
The stories ran some 21 months after the Washington Post published an editorial in March, 2020 calling for the sport to be banned. “No other accepted sport exploits defenseless animals as gambling chips,” the editorial read. “No other accepted sport tolerates the cruelties that routinely result in the injury and death of these magnificent animals. The rot in horse racing goes deep. It is a sport that has outlived its time.”
The editorial appeared shortly after trainers Jason Servis, Jorge Navarro and 25 others were indicted for allegedly taking part in a scheme to dope horses with performance-enhancing drugs.
The coverage in the Washington Post, which has been highly critical of the sport, of Medina Spirit's death was straightforward, but the story evoked a strong response from readers. As of Tuesday afternoon, 616 comments on the story were posted online, and the overwhelming majority of them were unforgiving toward a sport that is clearly dealing with serious public perception problems.
“Horse racing is not a legitimate sport any more than cock fighting or dog fighting is. Just put an end to this,” wrote Avian_Donn.
“Horse racing is as evil as bullfighting,” reader Turqoises wrote.
There were a few favorable comments.
“These comments are ridiculous,” Velvet2 wrote. “Most likely he either had an aortic rupture (the wobbling before he collapsed points to this) or he had a faulty heart valve that stressed his heart, leading it to enlarge and beat irregularly, and then just stop (what seems to have happened to Swale). Neither of these possibilities have anything to do with man-made abuse.”
The story in the New York Times, another media outlet whose coverage of the sport has been overwhelmingly negative, elicited 170 comments.
“It's so sad what trainers and owners do to these beautiful horses to make money from them,” read a post from Ms. Pea. “It's no secret that long-term use of steroids can damage the heart. This whole 'sport' should be banned. It's despicable.”
Leo Moon wrote: “This young horse is dead because he was abused and drugged to make humans rich and satisfy their need for entertainment. It is despicable that this continues in this day and time. This was 100% preventable. We need to go after the Kentucky Derby the way the circus protesters have gone after Ringling Brothers.”
There were 132 comments attached to the Wall Street Journal's coverage of Medina Spirit's death. The Journal attracts a more conservative audience than the Washington Post and the New York Times, so it was no surprise that the comments were, generally less harsh. “I can't believe what I'm reading here,” reader Micheal Trian posted. “I can't believe how 'woke' we have become. I can't believe the Left, using their wacky liberals, has destroyed The Sport of Kings.”
But plenty of Journal readers took the sport to task.
“Inhumane sport… needs to be banned,” wrote srikanth iyer. “The enormous amount of money spent to sustain this ludicrous business can be better spent elsewhere.”
Les Utley wrote: “WHEN is this going to stop? How many horses have to die at Santa Anita and at other tracks before something is done? Drugging, overdosing and pushing these horses beyond their bodily limits is sickening and immoral–all for the amusement of the elites and the gamblers. Despicable.”
Many of the comments posted on Twitter were from horse racing insiders, but several touched upon the reaction of the general public.
“The @TODAYshow posted an article on Medina Spirit & within 30 minutes had 161 comments” wrote Leah Alessandroni. “I read them all. 160 are anti-racing. 1 was pro. That's just a tiny snapshot, the same responses are happening all over social media. TB industry needs to decide if it wants to live or die.”
“As expected, Medina Spirit's death made the national, nightly news,” read a tweet from WelbourneStud. “Who else out there is already fielding a bunch of texts/social media messages from non-horse racing friends asking what is going on with BB, Santa Anita, and horse racing?”