Different racing breeds
often face the same issues—
just maybe not at the same time….
By Gary Guccione
Greyhound Review May 2010
You’ve possibly heard this before, and if so, it just might have been in a previous column in this very same publication. (OK, it’s true: the older one gets, the more one repeats himself.)
“Keep one eye on the horse-racing industry,” our predecessor, the late Norman McAsey, used to tell this wet-behind-the-ears kid in the early ‘70s. “What goes on with the Thoroughbred business today will almost certainly be an issue we’ll be dealing with before very long.” Experience proved Mac’s axiom to be correct more often than not.
It’s also true that the principle can work both ways.
For example, in visiting recently with acquaintances who’ve worked extensively as consultants and journalists in both racing sports, we’re told that many in the horse racing industry are seeing the urgency in being more proactive with respect to humane matters, especially with the retirement issue.
“First thing we tell them,” one consultant explained to us, “is to look no further than what the Greyhound people have done the last 20 years. We tell them that Greyhound racing has dealt with that issue very effectively.”
Injuries are another big concern to both sports. In the wake of the Triple Crown-Barbaro tragedy in 2006 (and several similar incidents), horse racing held a Safety of the Racehorse Summit, resulting in the creation of the Equine Injury Database in 2008, under the direction of the Jockey Club. A preliminary analysis released on Mar. 23 for a one-year period shows 2.04 fatal (“catastrophic”) injuries in Thoroughbreds per 1,000 starts.
That figure, which is in line with previous horse racing averages, is for 378,864 total starts in flat races at the 73 racetracks that submitted information to the database, beginning Nov. 1, 2008. In commenting on the released stats, Blood-Horse editor Dan Liebman made this obvious, and absolutely correct, assessment: “Breakdowns are an unfortunate—and, frankly, unavoidable—part of racing Thoroughbreds (or any other breed)….”
In comparison, Greyhound racing’s stats look credible—and, from any angle you want to view them, vastly acceptable. A 14-year study (1993-2007) done by Drs. Earl Carlson, with assistance early on from Dr. Mark Bloomberg, indicated a range of 1.0 to 2.66 injuries per 1,000 Greyhound starts, “with almost all of these injuries being treatable,” (as quoted in Care of the Racing & Retired Greyhound, published in 2007). Many tracks, including those now shuttered in Massachusetts, individually reported statistics that were much closer to the low side of that scale. Dr. Brad Fenwick put it into perspective last year when he said that racing Greyhounds experience accidental injuries at about the same rate as other working dogs and active family pets. “Even when an injury ends a Greyhound’s racing career, that dog usually is able to transition very successfully to life as an adopted pet,” he said…. Remember, the percentages for horses released in the recent EID report are only for fatal injuries, not all injuries, while the Greyhound stats are for all injuries (with fatal injuries being so rare, its frequency is infinitesimal in comparison with the number of starts).
Yet Grey2K and that ilk effectively sensationalize and spin the injury report records, coupling them with dramatic video images of spills, in such a way to make the unsuspecting, unknowledgeable viewer surmise that our sport is as barbaric as a gladiator exhibition in ancient Rome. Absurd.
Nor is any track—even the safest, best maintained racing surfaces—shielded from Grey2K’s rants, because of the group’s twisted methodology. Whether it’s a track in West Virginia, Iowa, Alabama—anywhere—Grey2K can, with its media tricks, make it look bad, when the exact opposite is true.
“Shameless hype,” is what Dr. Fenwick has called it.
As Liebman put it, injuries are an unfortunate, unavoidable part of the game. In fact, injuries are a part of any and all sports. They’re a part of life itself, whether sustained while strolling through the park, walking around the house, romping in the backyard, or competing as athletes on a racetrack or any other field or court of play. You do the best you can in addressing those injuries, and appeal your case to the reasonable, mainstream populace (certainly not the animal-rights extremists).
What’s our main weapon in addressing Grey2K’s dishonest tactics on this issue? Diligence, plain and simple.
* Diligence in maintaining the safest of possible racing surfaces at our tracks. AGTOA and TGA are to be commended on their continuing seminars on racetrack safety (the last recently concluded earlier this spring). Every track needs to keep abreast of the latest innovations and adopt the best track-maintenance methods for their particular area. Every track needs to place racing safety at the top of its priority list;
* Diligence in ensuring that Greyhounds are healthy and sound whenever they step on the racetrack, via close scrutiny of their most recent performances and earnest physical examinations of the athletes themselves. An ounce of prevention is indeed worth a pound of cure. Fatigue and frequency of starts must be carefully monitored;
* Diligence in early treatment, recuperation and rehabilitation, making sure that injured racers recover sufficiently so they can either return to racing or retire to a life as a pet or breeder;
* Diligence in educating the mainstream public in showing 1) that the rate of injuries in our sport is vastly acceptable. No, not just pretty good, but dang impressive. If horse racing is the gold standard, as evidenced by its acceptability in the general public’s eye, then we’re doing just fine; and, 2) that Grey2K’s rants on this issue are a joke—a perverted attempt to advance its own evil agenda.
Speaking further of the bangtails—purses in Thoroughbred racing dropped for the second straight in 2009. They fell 5.59 percent (handle was down 10 percent), following a 1.18 percent decline in purses the previous year….In offering those stats, Blood-Horse author Tom LaMarra wrote, “The trend is clear: Pari-mutuel handle and purses are declining. The reasons are varied. And a complicated revenue system, coupled with less transparency in the reporting of handle, is creating a black-hole effect. Does anyone really know what is going on, and can it be quantified?” (Consistent with our opening observation, the same might be said of our sport.)
Blood-Horse goes on to explain: “In 2009 wagering on United States Thoroughbred races ($12.3 billion) declined 9.88 percent from 2008, while purses ($1.1 billion) dropped 5.59 percent. At face value, purses accounted for 8.87 percent of total handle, but purses included revenue from non-pari-mutuel sources such as gaming machines.”
In the same article, NTRA President and CEO Alex Waldrop suggested that, given the fact that more than 40 racing facilities also offer gaming, looking only at the percentage of purses generated from wagers on races doesn’t cut it anymore and could be fueling an anti-racing mantra among casino companies. (Hmm. Where have we heard that line of thinking before….?)
Said Waldrop: “Purses are declining but not as quickly as handle, and that reflects the purse subsidies coming into racing. That’s no real surprise there, because we’ve given up major markets to racinos. We would caution the industry to look carefully at handle declines and not see them purely as a negative, but the natural and predictable results of putting casinos at our racetracks.” Waldrop goes on to call purse revenue from gaming machines a “supplement,” not a “subsidy,” because the projected impact on handle from slot machines was well-documented before racetrack casinos were licensed. The supplements, now in the hundreds of millions dollars each year in horse racing, are the payments casino companies should make for the right to operate in racing markets, Waldrop said.
He went on to say, “We’re entitled to these funds. Therefore, we have to question using not only attendance, but handle as gauges for the true health of the industry. There has been a change in our revenue sources.“Racing is not dying, it has ceded its market. We let a huge competitor into (racing states), and it was predictable handle would decline. We can’t let casino companies turn this around on us…..”
Greyhounds learning from (and relating with) horses? And vice versa? Oh how right you were, Mac….
One final note—and this one only of historical/trivial value—on the connection between the Sports of Kings and Queens, and then we’ll move on. It was exactly 50 years ago this year that an effort took place to try and legalize Greyhound racing in—of all places—the state of Kentucky. A Greyhound racing bill was presented in the House and Senate, but after lengthy consideration the bill was rejected. Said the old Coursing News article in April 1960: “Word from backers of the bill states they look for it to be passed in the next session.” Yeah, right….