Racing: Sport or Business?

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Jerry Brown, in an Op/Ed in yesterday's TDN (click here), proffered the notion that racing was a business, not a sport.

With all due respect, sincerely, I disagree with Jerry.

First of all, I like Jerry and this was not always the case. Jerry is not an easy guy to get to know, because he is brash, in your face and like many New Yorkers, he has an opinion. I have learned to like him because I totally respect what he brings to the game, which is a passion for clean competition. He deeply cares about the health and welfare of horseracing.

However, Jerry has got it ass backwards, which is not surprising, given his singular focus on providing resources for horseplayers to find their next winner. In addition to producing speed figures in his company ThoroGraph, Jerry consults with owners and trainers to unearth racing prospects for their stables and his record in this endeavor is the stuff of legend and includes Rachel Alexandra, Victory Gallop and Da Hoss to name but a few.

Jerry made his business vs. sport comment in an Op/Ed that was written to support the continued use of Lasix under certain conditions. He took umbrage with comments made last week by certain industry leaders that came out against the continued use of Lasix based partly on the idea that horseplayers did not want the medicine used on race days.

As an advocate for his point of view, Jerry did an admirable job and I applaud him for this. 

However, Jerry could not be more wrong when stating that the business of racing overrides the sport of racing.
I, and others of my ilk that have spent hundreds of years developing the Thoroughbred breed, totally disagree with him. Horses are bred and raced as a sport to find out which one is faster, not which weak or impaired ones can compete if they are assisted by drugs. Racing is a capitalist sport, not a welfare state. It is survival of the fittest and fastest, not the weakest or slowest.

Jerry bases a great part of his argument for the continued use of Lasix on the idea that it adds a layer of consistency to an enterprise fraught with unknowns. Lasix use can cut down on the variables a gambler faces before placing a bet.

Jerry might even be right about that. Lasix may actually be effective in reducing the impact of exercised induced pulmonary hemorrhage (bleeding). One thing Jerry for sure is right about is that horseplayers seek predictability and less risk.

The dream of every horseplayer worth his salt would be a card of 12 races, all at 6 furlongs on a dirt track, all claiming races, no turf, no synthetic, no maidens and no stakes, thank you very much.

Finally, Jerry indicates that because a minority of horseplayers account for the overwhelming amount of handle bet on horseracing in America, the wishes of these so-called whales should be catered to, as without them, there is no racing. 

Once again, Jerry has missed the boat as he seeks to surround that vessel with his whales. 

Jerry, my man, listen up:

Horseracing currently thrives in Hong Kong, where stacks of cash are bet on the races. Lasix is not allowed in Hong Kong. The reason the wagering pools are so astronomical in Hong Kong is because the horseplayers know that the integrity of racing is without question. The reason the racing is honest is that, first and foremost, it is conducted strictly as a sport. Is there a lot of money bet by big players? Yes sir. But does the business of gambling override and dictate to those that operate the sport? No sir.

Racing thrives in other locales as well, in Japan, in Australia and in England. Does racing have issues in these locales? Of course it does. But the one unifying theme that pervades all of the schemes brought to bear to clean up the game is that honesty is at the core of the efforts. And this is because without a great sport, one which horseplayers can embrace, there is no business.

Sport first, business second.

But racing could not exist without players betting money, you say. True. But the opposite also is the case. Racing cannot exist on a high plane unless all of the elements are brought together in a team effort.

Jerry's singular focus has blinded him to the fact that all evidence points to the introduction and proliferation of so-called therapeutic or permissible medication as the cause for the demise of the American racehorse and the downward spiral of the gambling dollar.

Americans were sold a bill of goods by needle-happy vets and Big Pharma. Trainers bought into it big time, especially when they found out that Lasix, which is a banned substance in Olympic competition, can mask illegal drugs.

But lately, those racing men and woman that care most about the sport of racing, have gained impressive traction in an effort to reverse the trend and do away with race-day drugs. When a veterinarian like Dr. Larry Bramlage and a leader like Dinny Phipps call for the banishment of Lasix, they do it because they realize that on several different levels it is good for horse racing.

They are not saying this is best for the business per se, but best for the image of the sport, because without the sport, there is nothing. If the game thrives on a sports level, then it follows that the business will follow suit.

I have no fear that horseplayers will adapt to a return to the good old days pre-1970 when horses ran without Lasix. Just like the newer generations of trainers that will have to beef up their horsemanship to condition racehorses without the use of race day drugs, so will the horseplayer have to embark on a new learning curve.

Racing is a great sport, with a magnificent athlete. The Thoroughbred is king, which is why Arabian, Quarter Horse and dog racing have never truly captured the imagination of the public or the horseplayer.

When all is said and done, when the Fat Lady has indeed sung that last note, what it all boils down to is this: two horses, locked in battle, being ridden for all they are worth, and each animal giving his last ounce of courage to reach the finish line first, sparing nothing in the bargain.

It is this full cry of valor that viscerally impacts even the hardest-hearted of professional gamblers and gains those horseplayers' full and complete admiration. That is the essence of racing. That is the essence of sport. And without this at its very core, there is nothing worth betting on. And these gamblers know and respect it. That is why they bet on racing, because sport trumps all.

To taint this glorious contest by artificially impacting the outcome is, in a word, unconscionable.

Once the horse's welfare is back as the paramount concern of horsemen, the sport will soon be revitalized. And horseplayers will feel better about placing big bets on the outcome, knowing that the participants are all playing on a level field for a change.

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