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From: The Casual Racing Fan To: The Industry Part 1

The sport will soon turn its eyes to Del Mar for the Breeders’ Cup but much of the public will be solely focused on New York, and not for a good reason, to the dismay of many in the industry. While the racing world is waiting for the gates to break open, many are questioning what is going on at Saratoga to cause the horses to break down.

The summer races at Saratoga have long been a treasured and honored meet for the racing community. Giants and giant killers alike gather for some of the best competition in the states. However, the meet this year has been marred by  the breakdowns at the track; a number that is tragically high, even for a sport that will unfortunately experience its fair share of the unavoidable. These incidents are something that many casually run websites have been quick to jump on to and trumpet “the suspected abuse that may be occurring” to bring about the accidents. While no breakdown is ever acceptable, the industry does all it can to limit the amount of accidents and injuries that occur during meets, but this effort is not always visible to those who are not immediately involved with racing.

I interviewed a few of my friends, all ranging from the most casual of casual fans to passionate racing addicts like myself. They all had a few thoughts on the Saratoga situation and various things that racing could do to attract more fans and create a better public image for itself. The first interview is with Victoria, a former classmate from Cazenovia College. We both attended during our freshman years and had the opportunity to experience Saratoga firsthand. Below is the interview (at least all she had time to answer) with some of the responses being edited for spelling and clarity.

Pati: If racing could instantly fix any problem, which one would you like to see solved first? Why?

V: Whatever is going on at Saratoga, where so many horses are dying within such a short amount time. I’d be a much bigger fan of it if the horses weren’t dying so much, so close to home.

Pati: (Edited from a series of many questions into one big one) What action should the racing industry take that would help you gain more clarity into the situations; a more detailed database, them closing and reworking the surface, or do you have suggestions yourself?

V: [I would] close for a bit and work on things. A lot of the injuries happen during or after the race has ended, or they were injuries that they earlier sustained and then kept running on. [There is] something with the ground.

Pati: How do you think the racing industry could improve on their communication to the public and what kind of communication would you like to see in the event of something tragic like a breakdown?

V: I think a larger social media presence would be better. We ALL know anything on social media spreads like wildfire and if I can’t find their good stuff, then there’s a chance that other people can’t/won’t either. I’m talking actual verified farms, trainers, and jockey accounts so they can tell their story. In the event of a breakdown, they shouldn’t keep it hush hush. That makes you look guilty. They should at least say “this horse died today for this suspected reason and we are looking into it.” except with more professional and detailed information.

Victoria never claimed to be an expert on the topic at any point in the interview, however, this does show what is being reported by the local news. We can debate the truth to her statements all we want (and I’m sure some of you will) but this is what is being reported in the place of our silence. This is the information that reaches the fans, and not what we could put out instead: factually accurate accounts of what happened and what is being done to fix the situation so that it doesn’t leave the casual fans in the dark.

The slim amount of detail leads people to draw their own conclusions and the industry remaining silent or merely tweeting about it does not help the public draw good conclusions about the surface or the concern of the industry about these breakdowns. From what I have personally seen on my Facebook timeline (one that is populated primarily by people that are casual fans or not at all of racing), they are reading articles that are written by people that will take these incidents and spin them to fit their narratives against racing; whether it is accurate or not is inconsequantial. Many of the linked articles that I have seen that pertain to these breakdowns have slim to almost no information on them beyond how many broke down and when it occurred. These “articles” were rarely longer than two paragraphs long…and the paragraphs were barely five sentences each.

Whether we meant it or not, by not issuing a loud and clear public statement to every news station that will listen about these incidents, we are allowing the people that are dead set on racing’s death a louder voice than our own. We are being reactive rather than proactive. We claim to be a sport full of people that love their animals like family, but we do not get ahead of the issues until the uproar becomes too loud to ignore. I have seen articles that quite literally looked like the owner put all of ten minutes into writing it, but because it contained bolded words about the fact that the horse had died (along with some snarky comments from the writer), the reader count was in the hundreds. They had no information about the horse beyond what other news stations had published as a second hand source, but they made a big stink BECAUSE of the lack of information.

As far as the general public is concerned, we don’t care; as witnessed by what others are writing about us. These people don’t even know the horses’ names, and that is a central point of their argument against us: racing won’t even publish the names of those that were euthanized, so how can they care about the athletes? Some of the general public is convinced that this is one giant cover-up to keep quiet the fact that horses have died at a prestigious meet. Victoria and quite a few of her friends also made comments questioning what was going on and why no one had done anything about it. I know that Saratoga works hard to maintenance their track, but that is information not publicly known to everyone or published in many places. The popular consensus was that the owners just didn’t care and were only there for the money. As much as we like to proclaim this as a lie, how can we if we truly haven’t done much to address the issue? No matter what I argued and what facts I present in some communities (more pointedly, the slaughter rescue groups), they all wanted to know why the racing community doesn’t step up to help or to address injuries/deaths until a lynch mob has formed and is calling for blood?

While I understand the need for privacy, this makes a good point. This industry is famous and infamous for being fabulously/stupid wealthy and we are acting like our wealth will protect us forever from the potential repercussions of our late reactions to everything.  Social media is now the most powerful form of communication in the world and it is like a wound: if you address it immediately, you can have a very good outcome and a positive ending. Ignore it, and you can end up losing your limb or even your life. Racing is treating its wounds two days after an infection has formed and we are running up the bill trying to fix what we could have easily prevented by just being proactive.

Instead of issuing official statements to local media outlets that include the names of the horses, their age, what happened, and what is being done to address what the track believes could be the potential problem, we are fighting each other to the death on social media because one side claims that the sport does genuinely love the horses and the other just doesn’t see it when nothing has been said about them beyond the fact that they broke down and were euthanized. The casual fan does not read the BloodHorse. The casual fan does not follow the large farms and racing groups on social media. The casual fan will re-tweet, share, and read an article that their local news station posts, especially if it’s something bad that justifies their preconceived PETA fueled notions about the sport. This is just a small example, but the death of a horse is a powerful motivator for a public that demands to know why such a wealthy industry has remained silent about them.

It is long passed time for the proactive members of the racing community to step up and do more. Whether we feel it is our duty or not to be even more transparent, we must do it. The young generation must be the one that picks up the few in the previous generations that are straggling and carry them along with us into a positive future; whether they come peacefully or kicking and screaming. At some point, the new generation must step up and be the change since demanding them from the established part of the community is clearly not working. Enough with the entitled attitude of “I don’t have to say anything because it’s none of their business”. Repeat after me: YES. IT. IS.

If we want more people to attend and stay as fans, than we must treat them like we respect their concerns. The casual fan wants to see that we care about the horse and that we truly feel the pain of the loss of an equine athlete; being silent and giving as little information as possible is not the way to do that at all. If we continue to treat the casual fan like an idiot with the “what they don’t know won’t kill them” mentality that we do now, the festering wound will get larger and it will get stronger. The court of public opinion has sunk many a “tradition” and ended many events with a long history of precedents. If racing doesn’t want to end up an asterisks in a history book, than we must treat the casual fans to the clarity that we expect from everything and everyone around us in every day life.

That is the most pressing concern. Whether we like it or not, it must be addressed or racing will slowly rot to death no matter how much money we pump into grande racing festivals and building new tracks. You must crawl before you can walk.

This is only part one of five. Tune in tomorrow for the next edition!