Saturday, May 31, 2008

Don't Look a Gift Horse and Other Superstitions

I come from a long line of superstitious women. You know the "knock on wood" types who never want to tempt the fates. Yes we relish good fortune but we are always aware of the flip side.

I think athletes in general are superstitious. You know the stories about baseball players not changing their socks when they are on a winning streak or hockey goalies not washing their gloves. There was a time when even Gretchen Jackson admitted to being superstitious about her horses. She always had to hear a particular song on the radio before one of them ran. But over time, the practice grew to be too time consuming so she let it go.

My point here is that yesterday's AP article in the Philadelphia Inquirer in which Rick Dutrow said it was a "foregone conclusion that Big Brown would win the Triple Crown," literally made the hair on the back of my neck stand straight up. First of all, absolutely NOTHING in racing is a foregone conclusion (Did I ever mention the time that one of my father's horses was ahead by 14 or 15 lengths in the stretch and jumped over the inside rail instead of finishing?) and second of all, WHY TEMPT FATE????

Even if you think it, keep it under wraps. To make matters worse, Dutrow goes on to criticize Smarty Jones' connections for losing the Belmont because "they were not smart." Ouch. First rule of sportsmanship: humility. Second rule: don't bash your predecessors or your opposition. Third rule: When in doubt, leave it out.

John Servis, Smarty Jones' ever gracious trainer, even gives Dutrow the benefit of the doubt. "It was just Rick being Rick," he said. "He has got a lot on his mind these days, especially with the quarter crack and all. He's under a lot of pressure, and a lot of times we say things we don't mean."

Note to Dutrow: This is how the game is played. Watch and learn and please keep your mouth shut. In many ways, you are just asking for trouble.

Friday, May 30, 2008

Loose Threads

Have you ever had a sweater with a small pull in it and when you tried to fix it, the hole just kept getting bigger until it seemed as if the entire sweater was unraveling? That seems to be what is happening to the structure of the Big Brown camp. First the hoof and now the owner.

Yesterdays New York Times carried an article by Joe Drape about Michael Iavarone, a co-owner of Big Brown and one of the masterminds behind International Equine Acquisitions Holdings, the horse hedge fund of which Big Brown is the centerpiece. Apparently in an honor befitting someone of Iavarone's stature, notably "a high profile banker on Wall Street," he was given the honor of ringing the NY Stock Exchange opening bell on Wednesday. However, in the ultimate of ironies, Iavarone let it be known that it was the first time he had set foot in the Exchange.

In fact, Iavarone, who previously told the NY Times that he worked for Goldman Sachs, the world's largest investment bank, had never been employed by the corporation. Indeed, Iavarone conceded he had made his career on Wall Street "selling penny stocks" and was fined in the process. According to Joe Drape, "In 1999, the National Association of Securities Dealers fined Iavarone $7500 and suspended him for 10 days for buying and selling $22,000 in stocks without the permission of his clients."

In addition, Iavarone has been involved in other questionable acts including a dispute over a bad check written to Showboat Hotel and Casino in Atlantic City, a $554,156 judgment brought against him and won by the Keeneland Association of Lexington for not paying for horses he bought at auction and a $130,000 lien by the IRS for unpaid taxes.

Iavarone professes he was young and has mended his ways. But as more and more details come out about his past, the much vaulted horse hedge fund prospectus is undergoing some tinkering in order to fulfill some contractual obligations to Three Chimneys, the most recent information revealing that Big Brown will no longer be "the cornerstone of the fund."

I rest my case. Would you buy anything from a man who lied about his past, made unauthorized trades, didn't pay taxes and reneged on his purchases? Actually, let me rephrase that: would you trust a man like this with the welfare of a horse who has the potential to win the Triple Crown?

I only hope that someone or something can stop this "pull" before there is nothing left but one long, loose thread.

Thursday, May 29, 2008

No Foot No Horse

I'm still not buying all the upbeat news coming out of the Big Brown camp these days regarding the quarter crack. Is it hype or is it insurance in case things do not go as planned with the race or the results?

The New York Times on Wednesday reports that Ian McKinley, the foot specialist in charge of Big Brown's tender tootsies has this to say about his patient's chances for victory in the Belmont: "Big Brown could always lose, but McKinley said it would not be because his foot was bothering him."

I'm willing to wager that is not exactly what Dutrow will tell us if that scenario plays out. If Big Brown does not win the Belmont, I guarantee his foot will be to blame and then who looks rather foolish--the trainer or the hoof specialist?

It is also interesting that McKinley began his career treating standardbreds--horses known to run through all sorts of injuries on all sorts of medications. To me, this quarter crack sounds very much like a split of the fingernail held together with wire sutures and packed with fiberglass. That does not sound like something I would want to run on.

Infection remains the biggest issue and I suggest it is indeed an issue considering the fact that the horse walks, stands, sleeps and trains on dirt and hay. Short of packing his foot in a bubble, there is not much they can do to avoid dirt, so the challenge remains to keep it dry, clean and packed.

I'm not saying all is not well now. I'm just saying it remains a day to day challenge to keep that foot in one piece. There is an old adage among horsemen, "No foot. No horse."

I'm standing by it.

Wednesday, May 28, 2008

A Crack is a Crack....

A quarter crack is just a quarter crack or is it?

I spoke to my dad a few days ago about the quarter crack in Big Brown's hoof and he seemed to think it was a bigger deal than the trainer is letting on. In fact, he indicated that he thought it might be foolish to run the horse in the Belmont with an injury of this nature.

All of which seemed very surprising to me considering all the upbeat news that seems to be streaming out of Dutrow's barn. Even more surprising to my father was the fact that Big Brown actually trained yesterday. He thought Big Brown would have been sidelined for at least a week and that if he did train he would just gallop once or twice.

So who or what are we to believe?

Quite frankly, I am stumped and extremely torn. There is a part of me that would love to see a Triple Crown because it is just what racing needs. And then there is a part of me that is trembling. What if these connections are foolish enough to run a horse that is not 100%, thereby putting the horse as well as the entire industry at risk? What if greed gets in the way of stewardship? And what if the horse wins but never runs again?

These are situations in which you want a trainer who always puts the horse first and I am not sure that we have this in Dutrow. These are situations in which you want owners who listen to and respect the decisions of their trainer--who realize that it is foolhardy to sacrifice a horse no matter what is at stake.

Yes history is calling but so is integrity. Just imagine what would happen if Big Brown ran, got beaten by Casino Drive and never raced again? And even worse, just imagine if he broke down on an even larger stage than the Kentucky Derby?

Stay tuned. This is going to be a wild ride.

Tuesday, May 27, 2008

Top 5 who Ran in Preakness and Never Won

I'm cleaning my desk and uncovering some gems that I clipped but have yet to post. So bear with me if this is old news to you.

Pulled from after the Preakness, a list of five best who didn't win the Preakness. Number 1: You guessed it, Barbaro, the author's pick for the best horse in the last 25 years who ran but didn't win the Preakness. No need to go into details; I know you know the story and suffice it to say that his is among one of the most tragic and yet oddly triumphant stories in horse racing.

Number 2 on the list is Skip Away who in 1996 finished second in the Preakness and then second in the Belmont. Interesting sidelight to this late bloomer: he went on to become Horse of the Year in 1998 and won the 1997 Breeder's Cup Classic. So much for retiring them young...

Number 3 is Easy Goer who in 1989 had a great rivalry going with Sunday Silence. Sunday silence won both the Derby and the Preakness, the later in one of the great stretch duels of all times but Easy Goer would deny him the Triple Crown, winning the Belmont by 8 lengths.

Number 4 is Swale, another tragic story. He won the Derby, never "fired" in the Preakness and won the Belmont, only to die of a heart attack, eight days later.

And Number 5, my personal favorite for some very obvious reasons: Bet Twice. In 1987, my family owned Bet Twice who was second in the Derby and second in the Preakness to Alysheba in yet another great racing rivalry. Bet Twice won the Belmont by 14 lengths to deny Alysheba the Triple Crown on a day that I will never ever forget. Bet Twice was not a great stud and passed away a few years ago.

The moral of the story: don't hand Big Brown the Triple Crown until he wins it. Anything can happen!

Monday, May 26, 2008

Mmm Mmm Good?

Here's some food for thought this holiday as reported in the May 16 edition of

A recent Gallup poll, conducted in the wake of Eight Belles' euthanasia after the Kentucky Derby, indicates that a significant minority of respondents support a ban on horse racing. According to an article first reported on, almost four in ten Americans (38%) said they would favor discontinuing sports that involve competition between animals. This was taken to mean horse and dog racing, not competitive dog shows or agility competitions.

According to Gallup, these views are consistent regardless of the respondents' attitudes toward other moral issues like abortion, euthanasia and gay rights. "There are relatively few significant differences in attitudes toward a ban on horse and dog racing among various demographic segments," writes Esther Marr.

Women were slightly more in favor of banning racing than men and the age group 18-29 favored the ban slightly more than older respondents. The results were based on telephone interviews with 1.017 national adults 18 and up and conducted May 8-11.

In response to the findings, Alex Waldrop, president and CEO of the National Thoroughbred Racing Association commented: "We need to do a better job helping the public understand all we do on a daily basis to care for our horses and provide the safest possible environment for them. The health and safety of our athletes is the number one priority of our industry."

To which I say: Put your money where your mouth is. Mandate that all tracks set aside a percentage of their daily handle for retirement homes for thoroughbreds, mandatory drug testing of all competitors and regulate the use of whips.

Put that on your grill!

Sunday, May 25, 2008

And the Nominees Are...

Two contests that might interest you during this Memorial Day weekend when you have the opportunity to brainstorm with family and friends.

Over on the Humane Society website, they are taking nominations for the first Dogs of Valor Award. Do you know a canine who has demonstrated altruism? The examples they give are dogs who rescued their owners from physical disasters but you may know of other dog deeds that qualify for this honor. There is also mention of "other species" for future consideration. Take a look at the May 19 blog entry.

And the Morris Animal Foundation is searching for America's Best Vet. The national essay contest honors veterinarians for their dedication to improving animal health and well-being and is co-sponsored by Hill's Pet Nutrition and Dog Fancy, Cat Fancy and Veterinary Practice News magazines.

The deadline for the 300 word essays is August 31, 2008 and winning vets will be honored by their peers at the February 2009 Western Veterinary Conference in Las Vegas and featured in the March 2009 issues of Veterinary Practice News. One national winner and five regional winners will be selected by a panel of judges. Details are available here after June 1.

In addition to honoring your vet for his/her outstanding care and treatment of clients, dedication to the human-animal bond, service to the community and devotion to the veterinary profession, the contest would be a stellar way for a budding college applicant to hone their essay skills, not to mention add an entry to their resume should their essay garner honors.

Last year the contest attracted more than 1,000 entries so warm up those keyboards! And let me know if you win!

Saturday, May 24, 2008

Brand Recognition

UPS is riding high on Big Brown, extending its agreement to be the horse's exclusive sponsor at the Belmont Stakes on June 7. Kent Desormeaux rides in brown pants with a UPS logo and trades his racing helmet for a UPS cap for post-race press conferences. Even fans at the Preakness were sporting Big Brown tee shirts and hats with the UPS logo.

From the corporate standpoint, it's a risky but highly visible endorsement. According to the Wall Street Journal, UPS announced last Friday that its foundation is donating $10,000 to the Thoroughbred Charities of America to "support the rescue and rehabilitation, therapeutic riding programs and other efforts to improve the treatment of racehorses."

In making the announcement, Ron Rogowski, UPS sponsorship director acknowledged that "what happened to Eight Belles was a tragedy" but went on to note that it is not the job of the sponsor "to regulate the industry. Inherently with any sponsorship there is a risk...But when the opportunity presented itself, we thought it had a tremendous upside for us."

Ironically, Big Brown's original and now part-owner, Paul Pompa, Jr, named the horse after he received a contract extension from UPS Freight for his trucking company, Truck-Rite Corporation. UPS, the corporation, was oblivious to the honor. It was not until International Equine Acquisitions Holdings, which bought the controlling interest of the horse from Mr. Pompa, approached UPS about a potential marketing opportunity right before the Kentucky Derby that they knew anything about the horse or his name.

In many ways, the deal is a natural for UPS. "It's a big potential revenue stream for them," says Kevin Adler president of Engage marketing. "To have a horse being a contender for the Triple Crown is a lot of buzz and really is the marketing message. That's worth associating your brand with it."

Now I'm sure UPS is just hoping that Big Brown can deliver.

Friday, May 23, 2008

Across the Pond and Beyond

A loyal reader of this blog tipped me off to a sensational article and video in The Wall Street Journal on May 16 about Jess Jackson, who owns 80% of Curlin. The wine mogul (as in Kendall-Jackson), is dedicated to breeding a stronger, sounder and faster thoroughbred, making him a controversial figure in the inner sanctum of Kentucky blue bloods.

Jackson started his racing venture, Stonestreet Stables in 2003 and, according to the article, "has made no secret that he believes the thoroughbred industry is a flawed, insular business controlled by what he calls, 'the Kentucky elite.'" In fact, in 2005, he sued several horse agents for inflating prices and has spoken out openly about the "overmedication" of American race horses.

All of this makes him a bit of an outsider among the very inbred higher echelons of the racing elite, but he doesn't really care. Jackson is intent on infusing American thoroughbred bloodlines with that of horses from all over the world: Argentina, Germany, France and South Africa, to name a few, in order to create a more "durable hybrid." In fact, he has spent millions on horses with obscure pedigrees to make his point.

The basis of his belief is that horses in other parts of the world do not race on medications that mask inherent genetic flaws. They are also bred to run in longer races and usually race until they are 5 or 6 years old. Often the horses he buys in overseas auctions are not even transported to the United States for two or three years, a practice that most American "investors" are unwilling to follow. "Too often tradition and economic interest block progress," he says. "What we've got to get back to is putting the horse first."

The article points out that Jackson is not the only owner looking overseas for new blood. Apparently Barry Irwin, of Team Valor International, a Kentucky based partnership, has bought several horses in South Africa that have been successful on American tracks.

Jackson's other goal is to race horses after their third birthday. Case in point is Curlin, the 2007 winner of the Preakness and 2008 Dubai World Cup. Curlin is still in training, making him the world's richest active racehorse. Jackson also endorses the concept of a national horse-racing league to oversee the sport.

Sounds like a man after my own heart who isn't afraid to challenge the status quo, especially if it is flawed. "In an anarchy, a few of the big guys go into the back and make all the rules and there's no debate," he says. "This industry needs a dose of reality."

Thursday, May 22, 2008

Hothouse Horses

William Nack, in my opinion one of the greatest racing writers of all time, has a fabulous post on about the role of pedigree in Eight Belle's demise. He interviews Ellen Parker, a thoroughbred breeding consultant and analyst in Kentucky who has been arguing against unsound bloodlines for years. Apparently, Parker always felt that Eight Belles' pedigree carried with it a high chance for disaster.

In fact, according to Nack, Parker feels that this combination of dangerous crosses in bloodlines "contributed to the racetrack breakdowns and deaths of such prominent horses as Ruffian, Go For Wand, of George Washington and Pine Island, and even of Barbaro." Fascinating stuff which only confirms the industry's current predilection to breed for speed rather than soundness. Of course, the proliferation of drugs, to mask unsoundness, has also contributed to weaker genes being passed on and on.

But what Nack points out, and what I find especially intriguing, is that it is not only nature but nurture (in the form of training practices) that has contributed to weakening the breed. He quotes John Nerud, the trainer of the late, great Dr. Fager, who retired sound. "These horses all retired sound because we raised 'em out in the open," said Nerud. "We did not hothouse 'em or prep 'em for sales. It makes quite a difference when your foal or yearling can run in a pasture. The pounding of those legs strengthens them when they are young and you'll grow a better bone on a horse."

I have to believe the same principle applies to horses in training, the majority of which are never turned out. Even Ruffian lived her life in a stall and was only hand grazed for fear of injury. Contrast that to the practice of Michael Matz, who in defiance of current practices, actually turned Barbaro out at Fair Hill between the Derby and the Preakness. Albeit, it was first to a small fenced in paddock, but then he grazed, off lead, in a fenced in pasture. "We're trying to keep him a happy horse," Matz said. Indeed as Barbaro let out a loud whinny and galloped around the paddock in what certainly looked like glee, it seemed as if he had made a wise decision.

In retrospect, I am sure Matz second-guessed his decision, but I have to believe that he was right. Most of the thoroughbreds who race today, Big Brown included, never get to be horses because they are worth too much money. The irony is that a stall-bound horse can injure himself almost as easily as one who is turned out in a paddock. In fact, a horse can injure himself walking out of the sales ring and never race a day in his life.

Investors will tell you that these horses are simply worth too much money to take a chance. But we all know what hothouse tomatoes taste like--nothing.

Wednesday, May 21, 2008

Cheaters Never Prosper...Or Do They?

The New York Times reports that an independent review of professional tennis matches over the last five years, found 45 of the matches played "gave a strong indication that gamblers were profiting from inside information." The overall report emphasized that professional tennis is not "systematically nor institutionally corrupt" but nonetheless recommended that these particular matches "gave little room for complacency."

To its credit, the governing bodies of the sport, the International Tennis Federation, the ATP and the WTA Tour, all "embraced" the recommendations of the independent review and created a global tennis integrity unit to continue to provide oversight in the sport. But how will they make sure their oversight is heeded?

The NFL has closed its investigation into the alleged secret videotaping of sideline signals of opponents by the New England Patriots although Senator Arlen Spector is not satisfied with the conclusions that merely fined the team and docked the head coach a practice. Spector want to see Coach Bill Belichick brought before Congress.

And down in Kentucky, the state has hired a an equine medical director, Dr. Mary Scollay, to help advise the state on whether and how it should impose a ban on steroids in racing. The issue seems to be twofold: not only whether or not to ban steroids but also how to enforce that ban. Foster Northrup, a member of the states racing authority sums it up: "The amount of trouble we have convicting people now is only going to be manifested if we pass this ban too early."

That seems to be the problem in most sports. Even if there is a national authority that governs a professional sport, the issue is not the creation of rules, but rather their enforcement. You can uphold sportsmanship all you want, on the surface, but who makes sure the concept actually means something in practice?

I would suggest that when money enters the picture, especially lots of money as it does in professional sports, integrity, honesty and "winning one for the Gipper" become secondary to salaries, bonuses and stud fees. But then I remember the numerous drug and gambling violations in college sports, the little league fathers battling it out on the sidelines and pee wee hockey parents punching each other out, and I wonder what has happened to the concept of competitive fair play.

The apple never falls far from the tree and professional sports role models, or the lack thereof, trickle down pretty quickly. Cheating goes on at every level but its time to start teaching our kids that its not about what you can get away with, but about walking away with your integrity intact.

I don't have any magic bullets for instilling this kind of moral code, but maybe you do. Let me know what you think.

Tuesday, May 20, 2008

Pomp and Circumstance

It was graduation day at Penn yesterday and our oldest son received his second Master's Degree, a Masters in Architecture from the School of Design. Together with his undergraduate degree in architecture and his Masters in Urban Design from the London School of Economics, he has become the most highly educated person in our immediate family--a fact we hope will make him highly sought after by employers!

In this tight job market, he has decided to go into real estate development and he hopes to actually work for our new managing director in Philadelphia. He has a lot of irons in the fire, job wise, and we are sure that something will pan out.

For now, it is enough to bask in his accomplishments and sing his praises--something that graduation gives us a chance to do. And Penn does it very well. Lots of academic regalia, brass, bagpipers and accolades as newly minted graduates prepare to make their marks.

Michael Bloomberg spoke at the official university wide ceremony in Franklin Field in the morning, which was followed by the smaller School of Design program in the afternoon. Bloomberg was excellent. He talked about the values he looks for in a political candidate: honesty, innovation, independence and integrity and how we shouldn't be afraid to demand that of our elected officials.

These are values we shouldn't be afraid to demand of anyone in positions of power, especially if those positions involve the welfare of others.

Unfortunately often these words go in one ear and out the other. As the Dean of the School of Design told us after awarding all the diplomas, there is a great story about the former president of M. I. T. An alum of that university reminded the president that he had been a great influence on his life because of the two words he told him when he handed him his diploma. "And what might those two words have been?" the president asked. "Well there was a long line behind me and it was backing up so you shook my hand and told me to keep moving," the alumnus replied. "It's been great advice."

Here's to moving on.

Monday, May 19, 2008

Promises, Promises...

Want to know how prevalent drugs, specifically steroids, are in racing? Look no farther than Delaware Park, where officials are having difficulty filling races because of the state's ban on anabolic steroids.

According to the most recent issue of The Bloodhorse (May 10), the track, which opened April 19, has had short fields. On May 3, in the six thoroughbred races conducted, three had fields of six or less. Officials were hoping for improvement with the opening of the turf course last week.

Explanations for the empty backstretch include direct competition from Gulfstream Park (since Delaware opened a week earlier when Gulfstream was still running), combined with the state of Delaware's ban on anabolic steroids. Racing secretary Izzie Trejo states, "When my office tries to hustle horses, we get the excuse that they don't want to get a steroid positive."

But get this. To combat the fear associated with testing positive (first time offenders have their horse banned from racing until the horse tests negative and all purse money must be forfeited), the Delaware Thoroughbred Racing Commission decided to institute a "leniency period" to attract horses to the state. During this time--until September 30--the penalties for racing a horse on steroids are not as strict.

Currently Pennsylvania and Delaware are the only two states to ban anabolic steroids in race horses. Clearly the desired effect of improving conditions for the horses has had a negative effect on the Delaware track's ability to attract enough horses to stage decent races. And when the pocketbook starts to suffer, all the good intentions in the world, go out the window.

Equally apparent is the ability of trainers to work around inconsistent bans of substances from one state to another and go wherever they can run their horses on their arsenal of pharmaceutical cocktails that simply mask their horses' conditions. They go where they can run their horses ultimately into the ground.

Just as Dutrow can race Big Brown in the Triple Crown on drugs banned in other states, trainers can simply avoid racing in Delaware and Pennsylvania. Ironically, both Delaware Park and Philadelphia Park have casinos which generate larger purses and should attract better horses, but even that does not seem to be enough to risk racing a horse steroid-less.

And until there is a national racing commission that actually institutes and oversees the enforcement of consistent drug rules across all states, individual state racing commissions can ban steroids and then go back on their bans.

Shame on you Delaware Park. Why not try advertising yourself as one of the few steroid-free race tracks in existence and see if that doesn't attract a new generation of race goers? You know, the ones who actually care about the horses.

Sunday, May 18, 2008

Winning at What Cost?

If you win the Tour de France and fail the post-race drug test, they take away your yellow jersey. Just ask Floyd Landis.

If you win an Olympic gold medal and they find out you did it on steroids, they take it away. Just ask Marion Jones.

If you are good enough to get into the Baseball Hall of Fame, and they find out its only because you were on steroids, your entry is denied. Just ask Mark McGuire.

And yet, if you win the Triple Crown on steroids, because it is legal in the states in which the races are run even though it is illegal in 10 of the 38 states with horse racing, they sell your stud services for $50 million and laugh all the way to the bank.

Something is not right and it has nothing to do with Big Brown and everything to do with the people who own and train him. After his performance yesterday in the Preakness, I don't think that any other horse can touch him, although Casino Drive has a legitimate shot. Big Brown seems destined for greatness, even though he is doing it on a drug called Winstrol, which his trainer admits he injects into all his horses on the 15th of every month.

Scot Waterman, Racing Medication and Testing Consortium executive director, said he expects the other 28 states that permit the drug to adopt more limited rules on Winstrol before next year's Triple Crown. "There was evidence these products were being overused or abused," says Waterman.

Need any evidence of the damage that steroids cause damage? The front page of The New York Times sports section on Saturday carried a story about Diana Koebel, owner of Lumberjack Farm, a rescue and rehab facility for retired racehorses in New York state. Koebel reports that horses arrive at her facility with so many drugs in them that "it can turn her seven stall stable into a detox clinic." And you can't tell me that all those drugs don't mess up a horse's reproductive abilities.

And yet, we look the other way. Inject horses with steroids, run them six or seven times, and then cash in your chips. What about the horse who won you the jackpot? What is the cost to his quality of life?

And more importantly, why do they keep giving these people trophies for winning on steroids when in every other sport, if you win on drugs, they take away your victory?

Maybe you can clue me in.

Saturday, May 17, 2008

The Second Jewel

"Who's going to beat him?" my father asked, referring of course to Big Brown in today's Preakness. "On paper, there's no horse in that race who has his credentials."

He's probably right, although as we all know, anything can happen. For what's it worth, I like Icabod Crane as well as Riley Tucker, but I honestly don't think anyone can beat Big Brown if he's on his game.

That, of course, is the six million dollar question and actually it may not even matter if Big Brown in 100%, the field looks that weak. It is pouring today which may make the track softer if they don't seal it, but the forecast is for clear skies and breezy conditions tomorrow.

My father did say, however, that if Big Brown does not win, he won't be in the money and the show payoffs will look like batting averages. Don't waste your money on a 1-2 shot. Bet Place and Show and you may win some back.

I actually haven't decided whether or not I will watch the race--I probably will find it hard not to, but that is supposed to be the point of all these boycotts--and in the end it will depend on where I am when the race goes off. In other words, I am not going to rearrange my day to make sure I am in front of the television at 6:15 Eastern Standard Time.

In other news, the autopsy results revealed that Eight Belles did not have a heart attack, so my hunch was wrong. It makes her tragic demise even more tragic, in my opinion, because it may have been avoidable if she had run in the Oaks. Maybe not. That's what makes horse racing.

On the undercard today is the second running of the Barbaro Stakes, won last year fittingly by the Michael Matz trained Chelokee. I am sure the Jacksons will be on hand to present the trophy in what will, once again, be a bittersweet reminder of how far horse racing still has to go to overcome its negative image. Look for NBC to remind us as well.

And for the record, I have no dire feelings about the Preakness. Maybe its because I'm still a bit numb from the Derby.

Friday, May 16, 2008

Can You Hear Me Now?

RecapturetheGlory had a rough time with the crowd noise at Churchill Downs during the festivities leading up to the race. He bucked in the paddock and lost his rider coming into the tunnel. By the time he got to the starting gate, he had, in a sense, already run. His trainer reports that the next time he runs, he will have cotton in his ears to muffle the loud noises.

That's actually a practice more of us should consider. Rock concerts, i-pods, leaf blowers, power saws and lawnmowers all take their toll on our sense of hearing. Once a year, I attend a function to support the National Organization for Hearing Research and once a year I am reminded how often we take our hearing for granted.

How loud is too loud? If you can hear your airplane seat mate's i-pod, then it is too loud. If you can hear the television from the next room through the walls of your motel, then the person next store has already done damage to their hearing. You should always provide your teens with earplugs when they go to concerts. All of the rockers still rocking from the 60s and 70s (Mick Jagger among them) are almost deaf.

Just imagine not being able to hear the phone ring, the baby cry or the orchestra create melody. Or more importantly, the sound of traffic approaching when you are walking, a fire engine siren or the fire alarm. These are all real possibilities for those of us who take our hearing for granted.

So take a moment to listen to what you will be missing if you turn up the volume. And if its already too loud, get your hearing checked by a reliable audiologist. There are amazing advances in hearing aids these days and no one live in silence.

Thursday, May 15, 2008

Speed versus Strength

There is an article in the Canadian Press about breeding thoroughbreds for speed versus durability that is an excellent summary of the recent discussions on the topic precipitated by Eight Belle's untimely breakdown at the end of the Kentucky Derby nearly two weeks ago. It quotes Dr. Larry Bramlage, the face of on-track disasters lately at these major events, stating that the breed is getting weaker because top stallions and mares are being judged by their ability to produce foals that win early races with colossal payouts." In other words, "If we want durability we have to select for it--and we really don't. We select for their ability to win."

This discussion reminded me of my interview with Headley Bell, bloodstock advisor to the Jacksons when we talked about the qualities he looked for when recommending matings. In the case of the Jacksons, his first objective was to work with the blooodstock they had, including the broodmare La Ville Rouge.

He liked Dynaformer because he felt he was a horse on the way up in terms of producing stakes winners and he bred size and toughness. La Ville is on the small side and compact. Whenever possible, Bell favors horses on the way up in terms of producing winners, rather than those with proven track records. First of all, they may be overpriced because nothing in this business is guaranteed. And second of all, a rising star is still rising, not on the decline.

Nonetheless, he does not rely on mathematical models (of which there are many in this business) or lineage or even probability. He calls it good old fashioned "horse sense" combined with luck. "You put it all into a pot, let it simmer like a stew, and sometimes you get lucky," he told me.

Of course, the bigger question is whether or not luck will strike twice, three or even four times as Nicanor, Barbaro's full brother begins his tutelage under Michael Matz. Could the pairing of Dynaformer and La Ville Rouge produce another champion the likes of Barbaro? Could they have stumbled on the magic formula? In other words, could they possibly get lucky twice?

Nicanor doesn't seem to mind the attention; in fact, he seems to know there is something special about him. But then again, anything is possible in pre-season. For now, it's enough to think big.

Wednesday, May 14, 2008

Unfortunately Literal Food for Thought

"From stable to table in seven days" is the take away message of the excellent, though brutally graphic but honest, piece that aired on HBO Real Sports with Bryan Gumbel on Monday evening. If you have on demand, you can watch it at your convenience.

The piece, which featured Mountaineer Race Track, the Sugarcreek auction and even the New Holland livestock auction, was unflinching in its portrayal of the truth and even showed lumps of horse meat being dished out on plates in Italy. If that wasn't enough to make you wary of eating meat in Italy, I don't know what is.

But more on target were Bryan Gumbel's questions at the end to the reporter who covered the story. "Does this happen everywhere?" he wondered. "And what can be done to stop it?" Of course, those are the six million dollar questions which the Americans Against Horse Slaughter deal with every day. We had mention of the bill in Congress but unfortunately no way for viewers to find out more. Perhaps if the web site is besieged with emails, they might forward them on to Washington.....

I can't help but think that if the sport had a Racing Commissioner, these practices could be outlawed. Of course, the black market will always exist, but it could exist with a heavy financial burden attached. Any trainer caught "selling" horses right off the track would have his license revoked. Of course they have to be caught. But what better job for those already involved in the rescue movement than to "police" tracks with which they are already associated?

We need oversight in the sport--from the breeding shed to the backside of racetracks to the second stage of a thoroughbreds career, as a pleasure horse or therapy horse, not as someone's dinner.

This is an important message that needs to be sent to the National Thoroughbred Racing Association. I urge you to make your voices heard on the NTRA blog.

Tuesday, May 13, 2008

Hero or Antihero?

I don't think it's a secret that I don't think too highly of Big Brown's majority owner, Michael Iavarone and there is a great profile in Friday's New York Times by Robin Finn that just confirms my perceptions. Calling him, "racing's entrepreneur du jour," Finn assures us, the "spirit of Gordon Gekko [greed is good] is alive and well--and bursting at the seams, actually..." in his persona.

Finn does a great job of painting Iavarone as he is: an investor who made a small fortune on Wall Street and is now applying the same tactics to horse racing. To be fair, his 84 horse stable (read portfolio), International Equine Acquisitions Holdings, is currently leading the country in earnings with $4.7 million in 2008. And that is no small feat. But Iavrone does not think small.

He readily admits to "overpaying" for the current centerpiece of his holdings, Big Brown ($2.5 million for a 75% stake) but so be it. "I had to have the horse, so I flattered the owner and overpaid to get the deal done, and now we're on the verge of rewriting history," Iavarone says.

Proving his point, Iavarone has already made an endorsement deal with UPS ("I liked his name a lot better after I made that deal," he admits) and insured the horse for $50 million, amazed that the policy was so easy to obtain. Rumors are rampant about Big Brown's stud value, about which Iavarone will only comment that inquiries have come in from the top stud farms.

Make no mistake about it. Big Brown is in no way "America's horse" because he is not going to race long enough for anyone to develop a relationship with him. He is an asset that Iavarone ideally hopes to flip in record time for a record profit. And should we fault him for getting incredibly lucky or praise him for spotting potential and going after it?

I don't know because just when I wonder just what kind of players this sport is attracting, I discover that IEAH has donated $17 million toward the new private equine hospital that is being built near Belmont and slated to open in 2009. The Ruffian Equine Medical Center even tapped Dr. Patty Hogan (of Smarty Jone's fame) to be its head surgeon. Oh wait....Dr. Hogan is listed on the Advisory Board of IEAH....

Draw your own conclusions. I'm betting on what goes around, comes around. It usually does.

Monday, May 12, 2008

It is Now Post Time

I am frankly surprised that people are still talking about the demise of Eight Belles over a week after it happened. There were at least four articles in various newspapers across the country yesterday, including William Rhoden's in The New York Times, one of the veterans in the business. Rhoden's point, and I think it is well taken, is that horse racing has been too slow to embrace change and, as a result, finds itself stuck , as he puts it, "in perpetual post time."

For those of you who don't know, post time is when the horses begin to load into the gate--this kind of nebulous time zone between when the horses get ready to run and when the race actually starts. It is also the time when betting on the race about to be run officially stops. If you go to the track, the announcer usually makes a big deal out of announcing the countdown to the post ("Five minutes to post; two minutes to post,") to warn bettors not to be shut out. In addition the track program sometimes lists "post time" which is the official time of day each race is slated to be run. Racing is a very punctual sport and races are always run on time unless there is a dire catastrophe.

For Rhoden, to be stuck in perpetual post time means racing is stuck in another time, another place, even another century, resting on its laurels because the sport has no competition from within. And therein lies the problem. It is one thing to be a monopoly; it is another to lose sight of the rest of the field. "While the gaming industry was gaining by leaps and bounds in the 1990s, racing, fat from its profits, fell behind," says Rhoden.

He's got a point, and Doug Reed, director of the University of Arizona's race track industry program, agrees with him. "Tracks did not reinvest in themselves quickly or substantially enough to keep up with the times," says Reed. "The entertainment bar was raised, and we were too slow to react."

And too slow to establish itself as a "big time" sport by 1) naming a Commissioner to oversee all racetracks in all states and do away with different rules in different states and 2) tackle the problems of over breeding, over racing, use of drugs, non-uniform surfaces, head on. Think about it. These issues are, to a certain extent, the same ones that football, basketball and baseball have all dealt with or at least acknowledged. Racing somehow decided it was exempt from conducting itself like a professional sport, which means first taking care of its own.

For too long, things have been the way they have always been. But people are too informed these days to tolerate yesterday's news. And they are too socially conscious to tolerate yesterday's behaviors.

To be fair, the Jockey Club is waking up, albeit slowly, and sensing the natives are restless. They formed a seven member panel to study equine health and safety. But the Jockey Club needs to do more than talk and propose. They need to act--soon--ideally before the end of the Triple Crown while the world is still paying attention--and announce some concrete changes to the sport. They need to come into the 21st century quickly.

Othewise, we will all be shut out.

Sunday, May 11, 2008

Mother's Day Gallery

In honor of Mother's Day, here are my "fur"children in all their glory. As you can see, we have developed into quite the peaceable kingdom....although I can't seem to get them all in one photo, just yet. Phoebe and Amos are laughing because they know what my reaction will be when I see what Sammy has decided to give me for Mother's Day...

MUD!!!!!! Here, there and everywhere. We have been through almost an entire bottle of puppy-no-more-tears shampoo because a certain light colored golden retriever is enamored of holes filled with MUD--that he dug, of course. That's Phoebe in the photo, walking away from such hi-jinxs. Divas do not like dirt....

My daughter and I have been on hole patrol and managed to blockade most of them with BOULDERS and upside down trash cans. You can imagine what my once nicely landscaped backyard looks like--another planet!

Until Sammy figures out how to move mountains, we think we may have conquered the problem temporarily. I went through a dozen HUGE beach towels in a day just drying off paws...

What can I say? Boys will be boys and always with such EXUBERANCE. EVERYTHING is an ADVENTURE--especially at 6:00 AM!!!

Truly, there are times when his is a face only a mother could love! And you know I love them all equally!

Enjoy your day and send some sunshine my way. My washer could use a break.

Saturday, May 10, 2008

Trot Home

Great article in the New York Times Saturday about Aldo, the police horse who lost his rider on Friday afternoon but managed to find his way home. Apparently, Aldo and his mounted officer were making their rounds on Friday afternoon when Aldo was spooked by the backfire from a motorcycle.

The officer landed on the sidewalk and was not seriously injured but Aldo took off, riderless. "Within about five minutes, the horse made it back to the stable..." the Times reports. The Police department veterinarian reported that Aldo suffered only a few minor cuts. Aldo made the journey of about eight blocks in two different directions, a handy accomplishment for a horse who has only been on the job about a year.

Horses, like most animals, are creatures of habit. I know that Miss Phoebe, who has never ventured off our fenced in property unescorted, could most definitely find her way back if she did. She has an uncanny sense of direction and when I let her, she leads me. In fact, there are times when I think both dogs are like those riding stable horses that only trot when they are headed home!

Paul J. Browne, the Police Department's chief spokesman, said it best: "You know, Aldo knows his turf."

Friday, May 9, 2008

Picking Winners

In light of Big Brown's participation as the centerpiece of IEAH's hedge fund, there was a fascinating column in Sunday's Philadelphia Inquirer by Charles A. Jaffe comparing the criteria one uses for picking a winner in a horse race to those he uses to determine a good investment. Contrary to what you might assume, he finds a lot of similarities between the two endeavors.

Some of these variables do seem to exist in both worlds. Just as one analyzes the length of the race and the style of the horse, one should decide whether one wants immediate returns or those that pay off over longer distances. And that old maxim about changing horses mid-stream seems to hold true. According to Jaffe, "Unlike a horse race, you can change funds as they round the turn and head for home, but studies show you are likely to be better off if you stick with your horses for as long as possible."

Other factors to consider include the jockey (fund manager), the field (all of the offerings in a certain asset class), track conditions (market conditions), the stable, trainer and bloodlines (a name brand investment fund or a start-up) and the weight of the jockey (fees). Jaffe also compares the horse's past performances to those of a mutual fund and the odds to bond ratings and evaluations by independent firms.

He even tackles the subject of the "hunch" bettor who goes on intuition or a gut feeling. That to Jaffe, is "comfort level" and to a certain extent, it all comes down to what you as a bettor are comfortable with. You are, indeed, betting on both portfolios--horse racing and investing--and while one may seem like more of a "sure thing" than another, risk and success are both subjective.

"In fund investing and horse racing, you can be rewarded even if you are not the big winner," Jaffe notes. "You get smaller payouts betting on a horse to finish in the top three than picking it to win, but pursuing smaller, more consistent payouts may suit you more than betting all-or-nothing on a favorite."

None of this means that I am advocating participating in a syndication like IEAH or even suggesting that you invest in a mutual fund or the stock market. To the contrary, I agree with Jaffe that investing should be a life-long endeavor, a "marathon rather than a short sprint." If those who "invested" in horse racing had the same attitude, we might have less emphasis on earnings and procreating and more on the sport itself.

Thursday, May 8, 2008

Your Bones on Drugs.....

If any of you doubt the pervasive use of performance enhancing drugs in racing, look no further than the Philadelphia Inquirer's story from yesterday with the headline: N.J. racehorses fail doping test. Apparently under New Jersey's new drug testing policy, horses can be tested any time, anywhere, not just at the track before or after a race. Sure enough, when six standardbreds were randomly tested at their farm, Winner's International Farm in Chesterfield, N. J. and all six tested positive.

Yes, they were standardbreds, not thoroughbreds, but yes, they were literally standing at their farm, being administered something called EPO (erythropoietin) which can enhance oxygen consumption but also, according to the Inquirer, "lead to heart attack or stroke." Harness racing has long been populated by many unscrupulous types who pump their horses full of performance enhancing drugs but the point is, this is but the most minute tip of the iceberg.

"EPO thickens the blood by stimulating the production of red blood cells over a period of time, increasing users' strength," the article continues. "The hormone is used to treat certain types of anemia in humans and has also been used by human athletes to enhance performance."

Drug are rampant in racing and because of state-by-state laws and lack of uniform regulations, there is no incentive to discontinue their use. If you can't race a horse on certain drugs in one state, then just go to another. Which brings me to the larger picture of an industry in crisis because it is lacking a central governing body.

Arthur Hancock, III, husband of Stacy of Kentucky Equine Humane Center, has a great post on the New York Time's blog, The Rail, today about the factions that are running amok in the thoroughbred industry. He calls it a "rudderless ship" and urges the creation of a racing commissioner, to which all states and all tracks would be responsible. His dream is to abolish the "thugs and drugs" in the sport.

Of course I agree, but the cynic in me says we have been here before. After Barbaro's injury, the concept of a racing commissioner was batted around and discarded. Unless someone totally neutral (read ineffectual) is installed, I cannot believe these factions will ever agree on a candidate that doesn't put the horseplayer, horse owner, horse trainer etc. before the horse.

But one thing I do know is that steroids destroy bones. I have a good friend with lupus who must take steroids whenever she gets a flare up and the damage that the drug has done to her body, is almost as agonizing as the disease it controls. She has broken more bones simply by walking down the street than you can imagine.

Just think, an independent racing commissioner could institute random drug testing across all states for horses on and off the track with the penalty of life suspension from the sport if any horses ever tested positive.

I can dream can't I......

Wednesday, May 7, 2008

Too Little, Too Late?

Alex Waldrop, president and CEO of the National Thoroughbred Racing Association is accepting suggestions on his blog as to how racing can be made safer. He is getting lots of good suggestions, ranging from changing the ages of competitors in the Triple Crown from 3 to 4, mandating synthetic racing surfaces, abolishing whips and drugs. He is also getting lots of feedback--probably much more than he bargained for.

Personally what galls me is his admission that "two weeks ago" he said "the horseplayer is the single most important economic driver of our game." Now of course, he is changing his tune, citing the horse as the centerpiece of the industry. But hello? It took a tragedy at the Kentucky Derby to get him to rethink his position? Isn't it just a little bit ironic that if the horse had been the centerpiece of the industry as he now acknowledges it should be, he wouldn't have been dreaming of the increased handle from women betting on the filly to beat the colts and instead considering whether or not she should have been in the race to begin with.

Not that such consideration would have prevented a tragedy. We will probably never know if Eight Belles injured herself before, during or after the race. But we do know that the amount of press given to the "Can a filly beat the colts?" question (and with it the potential to attract women to the sport) has been obliterated by the negative press the industry has received for letting her run.

So please tell Mr. Waldrop what you think. I'd like to think he might actually read every one of his emails. But don't expect miracles from a man who valued horseplayers over horses just two scant weeks ago.

Tuesday, May 6, 2008

PETA Petition

I am usually not a big fan of PETA (People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals). Oh, I applaud their philosophy but I think their tactics are a bit extreme and do little to advance their cause. When PETA activists throw paint on people wearing fur coats, the story becomes all about the paint and not about the reason for the action. Violent, extreme behaviors have given animal rights activists a bad name and many organizations who support animal rights go out of their way to deny any connection with PETA or its tactics.

That said, there is currently a petition on PETA that, in my opinion, is worth your perusal if you are serious about sending thoroughbred racing a message about change.

After Eight Belles' tragic death on Saturday, PETA is calling for suspensions for her jockey and trainer for unnecessary cruelty to animals. I do believe the jockey whipped Eight Belles incredibly hard coming down the stretch--much more so than was necessary when he realized that no one was going to catch Big Brown. If you are not going to win, why kill your horse trying? The PETA petition calls for an end to the use of the whip in horse racing, a practice I heartily endorse. They do not use whips in Europe.

As for suspending the trainer, well he was only following the orders of the owner so I'm not sure he is technically liable, except in his conscience and that is a matter for him to reconcile.

Other demands in the PETA petition include raising the age for horses to compete and replacing dirt tracks with synthetic surfaces. I think their reforms are actually fairly reasonable and I urge you to read them, even if you choose not to sign a petition endorsed by PETA.

Over at the Humane Society, Wayne Pacelle is urging a boycott of Triple Crown races by the viewing public. How ironic that in a year when we might actually have a Triple Crown winner (if his feet remain sound), racing has done more to turn people away than to encourage them to watch.

And yet, I'm not sure a boycott would have as much impact as a petition, similar to the one PETA has assembled, endorsed by HSUS. How's that for ultimate ironies?

Monday, May 5, 2008

The Belles are Still Tolling

This time the public outcry seems to be longer and stronger. Over at Dolittler, Dr. Patty Khuly has urged a moratorium on watching Triple Crown races, even though she herself loves the sport.

Sally Jenkins in The Washington Post, wonders if horse racing is breeding itself to death. Jane Smiley won't stop watching the animals she loves compete, but she does point out that in Europe, where horses rarely race on dirt and wait until they are older to start competing, break-downs are less frequent.

The New York Times yesterday wondered why there is no governing board in horse racing to oversee safety and equine welfare.

And some of the bettors who won money on Eight Belles are turning their winnings over to horse rescues.

Bravo! It's about time. Maybe this time, with Barbaro and Eight Belles leading the way, racing will get the message. Enough is enough. Enough breeding for speed. Enough racing too young, too far, too fast. And enough investing in horses like they are commodities that can be "sold" when they are done producing.

We need consistent surfaces, less emphasis on big name races for three year olds and independent safety stewards, not connected to any racetrack, to not be afraid to call off events if track surfaces are deemed dangerous to man and beast. And we need to remember that the sport begins and ends with the thoroughbred and if we don't treat them with respect, it will indeed end.

Sunday, May 4, 2008

Triumph and Tragedy

I don't want to say I told you so, but I did know that something was not right with this Derby. I thought something was going to happen at the beginning of the race and I actually had knots in my stomach when they were loading those 20 horses. And then when Big Brown spooked after he won and actually threw Desormeaux (which is what NBC showed us), it reminded me of Barbaro, who was not even breathing heavily after he won the Derby. Even the commentators were talking about how sharp he looked and then the camera pulled back and we saw the reason he spooked. Eight Belles was down and sprawled on the track.

I would be surprised if she didn't have a heart attack. Horses that fall like that usually do. I know they are talking about two fractured ankles but those might have been a result of her fall. We may never know. All I knew was that the longer she lay there, the less likely she was ever going to get up.

Two horses in two days. Chelokee the day before in the heavy slop, which luckily did not turn out to be a fracture. And then Eight Belles 24 hours later. The pundits are going to second guess this one to death. She should have run in the Oaks. Her jockey beat up on her pretty hard coming down the stretch. Speed. Greed. 15 minutes of fame. There are a thousand theories courtesy of hindsight, none of which are going to bring her back.

To my knowledge, a horse has never broken down in the Kentucky Derby and technically she didn't either since she finished the race. But they have in the Preakness and in the Belmont and certainly in the Breeder's Cup. We should be thankful they did not show the replay ad nauseum and I think NBC did a good job giving credit to the winners, who did not even know anything had happened until they were in the Winner's Circle. Big Brown race a great race and so did Eight Belles. And yet she probably took more spectators away from the sport at a time when it can ill afford to lose a single pair of eyes.

What will it take for racing to get its act together? What will it take for the sport to remember on whose backs the industry is literally riding? The Kentucky Derby has simply gotten out of hand--what does it say when the sideshow is bigger than the main event? Horses need to be returned to the forefront and it needs to be all about them, not because of them or in spite of them, and until that happens, the sport might as well write its own eulogy. It was one thing when tragedy loomed; another entirely when it was almost guaranteed to happen.

Kudos to the Big Brown team. They have a good horse on which to base their hedge fund. But they need to remember that horses have four feet, all of which are needed to stand and run. If I were Rick Dutrow, I'd be paying very careful attention to Big Brown's feet, especially after he ran on a track that took down a fine challenger.

Rest in peace Eight Belles. You ran your heart out and took a big piece of mine with it.

Saturday, May 3, 2008

My Father's Derby Picks

My father taught me how to read The Racing Form when I was about ten years old and I learned all of my handicapping skills from him. He is a far better handicapper than I ever will be because he does it a lot. But if pinch comes to shove, I can read a Racing Form with the best of them.

There are few hard and fast rules in handicapping but my father does have about three that are worth considering when you are trying to pick a winner.

Rule 1: Bet on any horse coming off the turf onto the dirt. That seems to be one of his favorites and it usually works.

Rule 2: Be wary of a horse moving down in class unless you can see a legitimate reason for it. The same applies to distance unless it is obvious that a horse is a sprinter and was running in mile and half races.

Rule 3: Know which trainers know what they are doing. I'm not going into details here but suffice it to say that, according to my father, there are an awful lot of people training horses who don't have a clue. Once in a while they may get lucky, but it's only going to be once in a while. Talent trumps luck over the long haul.

That's it. Oh, I'm sure he has a few other tricks up his sleeve but he rarely gets swayed by sentiment. He makes his picks based on what the horse has accomplished and rarely can be persuaded to throw out a "bad" race. If a horse doesn't run well, then he won't bet on it.

So, without further ado, here are my father's picks for this year's Kentucky Derby. Remember you heard it here first:

Win: Colonel John
Place: Court Vision
Show: Monba
He recommends a 10-4-14 Exacta Box.

Good luck and safe racing!

Friday, May 2, 2008

Why Animal Protection is Important

There is a wonderful quote from Ghandi that I have hanging over my desk: "The greatness of a nation can be judged by the way its animals are treated." It is especially appropriate in light of the remarks Wayne Pacelle, President of the Humane Society of the United States, made On April 30 at the Woodrow Wilson International Center for Scholars, a Washington D.C. think tank.

His speech, which I urge you to read in its entirety, brings to light Ghandi's point. "Animal welfare is now much more than a challenge of personal ethics," Pacelle said. "It is a matter of deep social concern, and increasingly a matter of corporate responsibility and an essential component of sound public policy."

In other words, ethical behavior toward all living things is more than a personal moral code. It is a code of conduct for society. Ideally, if we were all ethically moral beings, we would not need to worry about the way we treat other living things. But one look no further than Michael Vick to know we are not all on the same page when it comes to how we view animals. It is sadly necessary to establish and enforce laws that remind us of what it is to be human.

Pacelle's speech is powerful because it brings the concept of animal cruelty out of the personal, emotional, realm and into the hands of society. "Today, more than ever, there is a close connection between cruelty and other pressing social concerns, and that reinforces the case for animal protection in the modern era," he elaborates.

Dogfighting is almost always part of a network of criminal activity: gambling, drugs and human violence. It is a well known fact that people who abuse other people also abuse animals. And factory farming, as the HSUS investigation and subsequent shutdown of the Hallmark Meat Processing Plant revealed, is equally as amoral and corrupt.

What does it say about people who can sleep at night after torturing, sick "downed" cows to get back up into the slaughter line? More importantly, what does it say about a nation in which this is permitted to happen? What are we teaching our children about the value of life?

Heady questions but ones that Pacelle tackles head on and convincingly. There may in fact be many other "causes" worth fighting for, but animal welfare has a rightful place near the top of any one's list. We're all in this together....

Thursday, May 1, 2008

Who Will Hillary Bet On?

So, in the year when we have a female contender for President of the United States, will a filly beat the colts in the Kentucky Derby? Eight Belles, who had been entered in both the Kentucky Oaks which is the female version of the Derby, run on Friday, and Saturday's Derby, is going to go up against the boys. It is a well known fact that Bill Clinton's mom loved to bet on the horses. Will Hillary place a few dollars on Eight Belles' nose in the spirit of sisterhood?

Actually politics have a lot to do with Eight Belle's participation in the Derby and not all of it is friendly. Rick Porter, the owner of Eight Belles, in deciding to enter both races (clearly the best decision for his horse) is not making a lot of friends along the backstretch. If he had chosen to run in the Oaks and scratched from the Derby, he would have effectively knocked out another horse on the "also eligible" list. The Derby, with its limit of 20 horses, is one of the few races where an also-eligible list is not used. Which means that another horse, who made the cut in terms of earned winnings, would not be able to run because entries are not taken from the list. Once entries are taken on Wednesday, no other horse can get into the race even if one scratches after that.

As it turns out, because of an outside post drawn in the Oaks and a fabulous draw in the Derby, Eight Belles will give the boys a run for the money. Can she win? Genuine Risk in 1980 and Winning Colors in 1988 proved it is possible for a filly to beat nineteen other colts in what is arguably one of the most difficult races of a young horse's career. But can Eight Belles duplicate the feat? She's four for four and I think this Derby is wide open, so who knows? With a good post position and a lot of luck, this just might be the year of the woman in Kentucky as well as the rest of the United States. As they say, never say never.

In the meantime, my money is actually going to be on Colonel John. I think he is far and away the best horse but that does not always mean he is going to win. I also like Aviando and Pyro (if you throw out his last race) and, for sentimental reasons, Visionaire. But I also don't mind admitting that I have a funny feeling about this Derby and I'm not sure what it's all about--a filly winning or something else.

We'll find out soon enough.