06 June 2015


     By golly, he did it.

    American Pharoah won the  2015 Triple Crown. (despite having a misspelled name).

    37 years after Affirmed won the Belmont, we finally have #12 in the Triple Crown winner's list.
American Pharoah ran in front wire to wire. He won by a comfortable five lengths. The time was only a few seconds off Secretariats mighty win of 1973. No horse will ever equal Secretariat's incredible 30 length lead. But then again, there will never, ever again be a horse of Secretariat's caliber. Those bloodlines are gone. Although it was a pleasure to see Secretariat's breeder and owner, the Grand Dame of Racing, Penny Chenery, in the stands. What a lovely lady. The last of her kind.

    Bob Baffert, the trainer, did something right. Now, I've never cared for Baffert. He had a reputation among the other trainers of being a pompous asshole. During his 'salad days' he flaunted his wealth...a blonde bimbo in a fur stretched across the hood of Baffert's car (which may have been a Mercedes, or a Jaguar). The unkind things he said about other trainers. He wasn't the nicest of guys, and there's no call for being a shithead.

   However, he seems to have mellowed greatly since having a heart attack..or losing several Belmonts that were THIS close to being won. 
 The bimbo is now his wife, and maybe she managed to shove a bit in his mouth and give him a bit of a tweak on the reins. Or maybe he is still a pompous asshole. The media isn't showing that part of him anymore.

   What I think happened was..he, like other horse trainers, was forced to go back to being HORSE TRAINERS.

  When Eight Belles broke down at the finish line, having been the Place (#2) in the Kentucky Derby in 2008, revulsion filled the country. Horses have been breaking down with depressing regularity for years now, but something snapped in the collective American horse racing public's psyche. No more. No more horribly broken horses in front of millions of watchers. No more.

    I think that at that moment, if Someone had said, No more racing in the US, the vast majority of racing fans would have agreed. It was too horrible, watching the gallant filly staggering on the splintered ends of her cannon bones. People began to bitch. Loudly.

   The Jockey Club, a hidebound and antiquarian association that in the last fifty or so years has succumbed to Money itis (if someone has enough money, the JC will change the rules to accommodate their outrageous demands), had always ignored the average non horse owner before. But this time, people got pissed enough to say, you know what, I think I'd rather watch golf than see another horse die. And die they did, because the trainers and the Jockey Club allowed horses far too young (sometimes only 18 months old) to race, and allowed them to be drugged into insensibility..all for the goddamned dollar. 

   Somehow, we got through to them. It may be a case of too little too late...horse racing is dying, at least in the US..but they did change some rules. One was, no horse hits the track until it is an honest to god 2 year old. And, I believe, they scaled back the unbridled use of drugs.

  That's why so many horses broke down, and why we've not had a Triple Crown winner since 1978. It's because trainers ('horsemen') no longer had to train. They no longer had to be a horseman. They depended on the drugs to keep the horse fit. They depended on the drugs to keep the horse running.  Drug the colt to the gills and run him. The owner wants a return on his investment, the businessmen doing the breeding don't know a colt from a coat hanger. Breeding race horses had devolved into a business arrangement, not a studied match made on understanding equine bloodlines.  As the president of the WA State Thoroughbred Breeder's Association once put it, 'we're not in the business of breeding race horses. We're in the business of selling 2 year olds."

   When you devalue the animal to that point, it becomes nothing but a stock market  certificate. Oh, they're still incredibly expensive. But the business, the TB industry, had become an Industry, not a rich man's hobby. The horses stopped being horses. They became pawns on a chess board. In the game of chess, the reason pawns are the most numerous pieces is because they are 'dispensible'. They are nothing of value. You can lose every pawn you own and still win.  

   The horse racing industry and the Jockey Club had grown complacent. Breakdowns stopped being a tragedy, a painful thing to see, and became "collateral damage'. Breakdowns became 'the cost of doing business'. The cruelty of how the horse got to that point was conveniently forgotten.

    The problem is that it is ethically and morally wrong. Horses are living,breathing beings. Yes, they are Animals. Animals have no rights. But the public doesn't like seeing a gorgeous race horse treated like an animated bicycle. And the bettor doesn't like seeing his money thrown away on a horse that may or may not have won. Bettors don't think that way. They bet on a 'sure thing' and when that 'thing' becomes a "DNF" (did not finish) because its legs snapped, they've lost their money. 

    I might be wrong. But it seems to me that once certain restraints were imposed on the TB business..that of letting a horse mature a little, keeping the drugs out of his system, they had to go back to being Horse Trainers. This meant, no more milk shakes, no more Lasix/Bute etc hiding problems. No more thyroid medication to put artificial muscle on a horse. They had to go back to the three things that made a race horse: Conditioning, feeding, and individualized training. The owner had to be made aware that this was an animal, not a machine.

   The thought strikes me that perhaps the Trainers welcomed the restraints, slight as they may be, that the Jockey Club was forced at gunpoint to impose. Now they had an out..."Well, I'd love to drug this colt, but....you know, they JC says I can't anymore. Sorry." Because I do believe the trainers love their horses. But they don't own them. Most of the big guys, like Baffert, are in the business to train the horses, and have many, none of whom are 'theirs'.

   Baffert did a good job of bringing his horse to the peak of condition at the precise time he needed to be.
That takes time, effort, and an eye for the horse. I will give him that. 

   Will we have another spate of winners in the coming years? I hope so.


No comments: