With all the negative publicity and piling on the sport of horse racing has had to withstand of late, it is refreshing for those of us who love and live the game to see we do have some strong glue holding us together. All of us in the sport should be thankful for that. Without it we fall apart at the seams.
Anyone who has spent anytime on the backside of a racetrack knows it is a world in and of itself. If you’ve worked on the backstretch in any capacity you know it is not a job. it is a way of life. You become part of that world and it becomes part of you. Most of us wouldn’t have it any other way. It extends to the grandstands and clubhouses but it remains a wee bit different on the backside. That is probably because of the horses. This is where they live and those of us who work or have worked back there live with them.
I recently wrote about three groups of people who comprise those who work around the horses. Those who love them. Those who treat them as business property or commodities, and those who abuse them. The ones who love them are the glue. In the midst of an industry crisis, which make no mistake, we are in, they are the ones, often unheralded, holding it together. It is tough back there under normal circumstances. The care of large animals in a competitive sport can be and is most times demanding and draining. In the current climate it is exhaustive and merciless.
The ones who love the horses are paying a daily and bitter price for the ones who don’t. They are the ones who have to cross protest lines where insults and often baseless accusations are hurled at them as opposed to those who may deserve them. They have no option but to march on. Horses don’t have agendas. They don’t realize what is going on outside the stable gate. They need their food, attention, training, care, and more. There are no acceptable excuses for not showing up. No holidays, no down time, it all has to get done. The horses depend on it.
Imagine going to work and your work involves the care and close personal interaction with horses that a hot walker, groom, foreman, assistant trainer or trainer has and being told your sport kills horses as you walk in. Let’s remain cognizant of which group of the three we are talking to here. They have little choice but to march past, and do what it is they do, the horses are waiting. Nonetheless it has to be tough. They know they are doing things right, and as right as they can and know how to, but they are the ones taking it on the chin. Do you think the other two groups really care? They care about what motivates them, which the odds on favorite is money. Until you take that away they won’t care. Our group always will.
When you work closely with animals, you realize things many others miss or take for granted. They have personalities. They have likes and dislikes. They have wants and needs. Our group sees that daily. It is because of that they truck on and do what needs to be done every day.
We all know backstretch workers do not make a lot of money. We as an industry are trying to improve backstretch conditions and have made strides in that area. I think we will continue to do so. We also have a lot of barns that do take good care of their people. This is why you see some of them after long hours tending to the horses which always comes first, outside the track defending the sport and animals they love. That’s glue. We owe them some gratitude and more for it.
The assault on the industry is multi faceted.
It seems as if almost everybody is against something in horse racing, myself included. As an industry we have a lot of work to do, and I believe we are starting to see that and realize we have to work together for the survival and betterment of the sport. More and more of us seem willing.
Social media has created a platform whereas almost anyone can certify themselves an expert and have a voice. You can even do this anonymously. Many in our game do, and being anonymous makes one brave and pretty much exempt from repercussions.
We live in a society of immediate gratification, division, and blinkers. People are unwilling to see any point of view other than their own. Minds are made up based on whatever personal observations are along with misinformation and who knows what else. This has to be tough for certain trainers who are winning at good clips, doing it the right way, but labeled or accused of being “cheaters.” I will be the first to call for getting rid of cheaters. There is no place for them in this game. Being called or labeled a cheater by anonymous social media posts, or ignorant over zealous losing ticket holders, or even agenda misinformed writers doesn’t make you one.
Today we have some trainers singled out and labeled because of their results. They spot their horses well, give them the best of care, and win on the most scrutinized stages in the sport. An anonymous post or an ill intended article can snatch that away without any factual validity whatsoever.
Everyone has their mind made up and everybody is right and nobody is wrong. You know, just like religion or politics.
I spent more days than I can count sitting at our table at the track with my Dad and our friend Lead Pipe Joe. There are not many sharper than these two old timers may they rest in peace. The two old friends had a saying they would repeat often and throw at each other at the most opportune times which came frequently. My Dad actually started it and Joe loved it. It held true then, today, and always. Does it hold true in the Sport of Kings? Indeed.
Those who know don’t say and those who say don’t know.