Sunday, August 31, 2008

More Than A Regular Joe

I am a huge Joe Biden fan. If he hadn't dropped out of the race before Pennsylvania, he would have received my vote regardless of his chances of winning the nomination. And I have to admit I admire him not only for his politics, but also for the way he has overcome the many challenges he has faced in his life.

You see, we in Pennsylvania are so close to Delaware, that Biden's adversities usually make Section I news. I remember reading the heartbreaking story of how he was sworn in to the Senate by his son's bedside in the hospital, shortly after the accident in which he lost his wife and daughter. And I especially remember reading about his brain aneurysm, not too many years later.

Biden is a familiar figure on the Amtrak route. He and Arlen Spector routinely commute to Washington and it is not unusual to spy one or both of them if you make the same trip. They are both friendly and accessible and not in the least bit full of themselves. Just regular "Joes" doing their job.

As anyone who watched Biden's speech Wednesday night will admit, he has overcome the trials in his life with remarkable resilience. He has never abandoned his political career in spite of all his setbacks and during that career he has never lost the values that inspire him to work for the good of all. He was clearly raised to be strong and take the good with the bad, but he was also brought up to believe that equality is a right, not a privilege.

Actually at some point in the campaign, I thought he was lobbying to become the next Secretary of State, a position in which I still think he would be extremely successful. But given Cheney's heavy hand in shaping foreign policy during Bush's tenure in the oval office, I have no doubt that Biden is super qualified to continue that role. In fact, he was the only candidate to have a clear cut, drafted and published plan for the withdrawal of our troops from Iraq that made sense (at least to me).

In my opinion, he is exactly what the Obama ticket needed and the energy and enthusiasm he feels for the honor is palpable. Dare I say he so deserves this moment in the spotlight? Dare I say he still would make a great president? And dare I also wonder just what those two guys promised Hillary to break the chain of Bush, Clinton, Bush, Clinton?

I find it hard not to like Joe Biden and to admire him for having his priorities straight. Guess you know who I'll be voting for come November.

Saturday, August 30, 2008

RIP Eight Belles

Eight Belles was quietly interred at Churchill Downs outside the Kentucky Derby Museum on Monday, August 25. Her cremated remains were placed in a hand made box and gently placed into the ground, in original Derby soil, under a Little Gem magnolia that is expected to bloom now and again in May.

The brief ceremony was closed to the public and was witnessed only by employees of the Museum and adjacent cafe as well as the grounds crew. The public ceremony, "celebrating her life" will be on September 7.

It is amazingly ironic that Eight Belles and Barbaro, the two horses that, in my opinion, have done more to change racing because of their untimely demises than any that have won the Derby, will be memorialized within a few hundred feet of each other. One won the Derby; the other came in second.

And both have legacies that are greater than their greatest victories. What Barbaro started, Eight Belles brought to a boil and the pot is still simmering.

It is, of course, tragic that these horses had to die to get their sport to 'fess up and hopefully, clean up, but it says something powerful about the continuing impact of horses on our society. Why these two and why now are important questions to consider even as we continue to craft their legacies.

Friday, August 29, 2008

What Barbaro Started

The Louisville Courier Journal ran an excellent series last week called Tragedy on the Track in which they examined all of the current issues in racing including drug use, over breeding, track surfaces and genetics. There were many well researched articles on many, many subjects and while every one seems to have their own reason for the tragic breakdowns in the sport, the answer seems clear that there are multiple reasons for the weakening of the breed.

What is also clear is that Barbaro began the campaign to search for answers and Eight Belles quickened the pace. And while the newspaper finds it "ironic" that these horses died from "injuries so rare that even veteran trainers and veterinarians found both incidents almost unprecedented," the fact remains that they injured themselves on national television. And it is hard to run from the glare of the celebrity spotlight.

These two horses capitalized on the phenomenon of the celebrity illness narrative to galvanize public attention for their sport. Think of what Michael J. Fox does for Parkinson's disease or even Ted Kennedy's current battle with brain cancer. There is nothing like celebrity illness to raise awareness and funds for medical research.

And because horses can't talk, and are seen by many as "innocents," their plights becomes even more compelling. Frankly, I do not think that we would be talking about all these issues, which have been around in racing for years, if it hadn't been for Barbaro.

I'm meeting today with my advisor to discuss this very topic so stay tuned. It promises to be a fascinating ride.

Thursday, August 28, 2008

Voice Your Opinions on Racing

Over on Alex Brown's site, he is taking suggestions for how the NTRA (National Thoroughbred Racing Association)can appeal to younger patrons. This is your opportunity to let the powers that be know how to make the sport more fan friendly. So please voice your opinions so they can pass them on.

As for me, well I have been reading other comments and agree with the links that emphasize education--of the casual fan as well as of long time players and those that advise making the venues more family friendly. The problem is getting those fans into the gate and short of give-aways or free admission days, I am not sure what will motivate people to come.

The other opportunity that I think tracks are overlooking is that broad stretch of time between races. Think about what major league baseball does between innings: dance contests, flying hotdogs flung from the mascots roving "hotdogmobile," fun shots of fans in the stands on the jumbotron and music, music music to keep the pace upbeat and the fans in the game.

What about some video clips of past Kentucky Derbys or even snippets from Seabiscuit? What about informational clips from jockeys and trainers about special equipment or horseshoes or the history of racing silks? What about some glory days shots of Secretariat?

I know the lull is for the handicappers to consider the next race and the jockeys to shower and change silks, but the leisurely pace is lost on this video game generation who like to be constantly stimulated. And even if you hate the three ring circus aspect of professional sports, you have to admit they keep things lively.

So my two cents is to pay some attention to the pace of the day and see if you can use the opportunities between races to educate and entertain. And not just about horse racing and handicapping but also about the human-animal bond. Make it fun. Make it fast (to watch) and make it feasible for everyone to participate.

Wednesday, August 27, 2008

For the Amos Fan Club

Those of you in the Amos Fan Club will be relieved to know that he is feeling great! Who knows if it is the Rimadyl, the addition of Sammy or the soaking in Epsom salts, but his feet are back to normal and his limp is basically gone. He still gets stiff, especially when first getting up in the morning or from a nap, but he is back on the road again for long walks and genuinely enjoying his new role as Sammy's official playmate.

There is absolutely nothing that Amos likes more than swimming--which is especially unusual for a collie. Most collie's avoid water like the plague, but Amos loves it! Perhaps it is because he was raised with golden retrievers (who are essentially polar bears in disguise!) or perhaps because it makes his joints feel better, Amos is very much at home in the pool. As you can see, he is an especially graceful swimmer.

He and Sammy are best buddies and can be seen sharing most toys, even the much loved kickboard!

What can I say? Boys will be boys....all of which means Miss Phoebe still reigns supreme (at least in her opinion!)

Tuesday, August 26, 2008

Passing the Baton

With the passing of Genuine Risk on August 19, at the very ripe old age of 31 from natural causes, the mantle of current oldest living Kentucky Derby winner has passed to Alysheba. Those of you who read this blog regularly might remember that Alysheba was the nemesis of our horse, Bet Twice, back in 1987.

Alysheba won the Derby and the Preakness; Bet Twice was second in both. And Bet Twice won the Belmont by 14 lengths. Alysheba was fourth.

An interesting article by legendary racing writer William Nack, from the Sports Illustrated "vault," sheds some light on Alysheba's uncharacteristic finish in the Belmont. "Did he [Alysheba] lose because he had a rough trip, which he did, or because he was suffering from the stresses of an enervating campaign? Or, and here we go again, was it because he ran without Lasix? Running free of Lasix in the Haskell Handicap at Monmouth Park in August, Alysheba again lost to Bet Twice by a neck. Free of it again for the Travers at Saratoga three weeks later, he finished sixth...On the juice for the Super Derby a month later, he won...On, off, off, on....How good was Alysheba? The question lingers, unanswered and unanswerable," he writes."It's wrong, flat wrong for any graded stakes race to be contested by horses running with the help of any drug..."

The article is dated January 25, 1988, twenty years ago and the practice still persists. Worse, Nack's prediction then that "permissiveness in the use of medication may corrupt the breed itself," has come to pass. "There are a lot of horses going to stud today who would never have made it to the racetrack without drugs. Drugs may interrupt this natural process of ferreting out the good from the bad and one wonders what the effect of this will be on the thoroughbred breed in years to come."

Look no farther than Big Brown's feet for your answer. It is even more curious to note that one of the leading proponents of limiting drugs in racing before this year's congressional hearing on the subject was Jack Van Berg, Alysheba's trainer. "It's drug warfare out there," he notably said. Perhaps the baton truly has been passed full circle...

Monday, August 25, 2008

When the Buck Stops

Some interesting news out of Saratoga about the Jockey Club Round Table conference held this year on August 17th. As might be expected, the hot topic was limiting drugs and improving drug testing. The Thoroughbred Safety Committee issued four new recommendations pertaining to these topics including the creation of a task force to develop a business plan for equine drug testing and research; prohibition of alkalinizing agents (so called "milkshakes") by all racing jurisdictions and tracks, and participation by all racing regulatory agencies in the Jockey Club's injury/breakdown database.

There was much debate regarding, you guessed it, the money needed to improve the industry's current drug testing program. Currently, according to TRA (Thoroughbred Racing Association) CEO Alan Foreman, the industry spends $30 million (from state funding) to fund 18 laboratories where testing is conducted. According to Foreman, "We're spending the same amount as we did 20 years ago. Our system worked decades ago but it won't work now."

Foreman feels that the same money could be more efficiently spent (makes you wonder who's currently got their hand in the till) with the creation of a research lab controlled by the racing industry.

It is interesting to me that Foreman first acknowledges the antiquity of the current system and then calls for the industry to regulate its own testing program. That would of course mean that the industry would have to fund its own program and not rely on states to police their own jurisdictions with money from their own coffers. Where that money would come from is any body's guess, but I can assure you that state funding will not be allocated to private industry.

All of which means that nothing much is going to get done. "There weren't many new ideas here today and the main issue has not been addressed," noted RCI president Ed Martin. "I would challenge (the industry) to match the money now spent on drug testing. There is no beef. Where's the beef?"

I don't think that the industry has the luxury of time to chew its collective cud. The sport is under the microscope like never before and unless the industry acts quickly to clean up its act, I predict they will have to deal with federal regulations that do it for them.

Sunday, August 24, 2008

The Pennsylvania Dog Law

Here in Pennsylvania our governor, Ed Rendell, has been lobbying long and hard to get his puppy mill bill passed. The Dog Law (H. B. 2525) is aimed at closing puppy mills which is why it mandates all kennels housing 26 or more dogs to conform to specific size regulations, keep daily sanitation and cleaning records (of dogs as well as facilities), require daily exercise on a lead and generally enforce clean, humane living conditions for the occupants.

What happened is that fox hunters who have kennels of more that 26 dogs were not happy about the requirements which also apply to them. They mounted a counter-lobbying effort to exempt sporting and hobby dog kennels, since they do not operate to make a profit. Their lobbying efforts have been successful and the bill now has amendments that exempt sporting dogs from the restrictive clauses.

There was also a sneaking suspicion that PETA and other animal activist groups were behind the original bill and that the intention was to eliminate fox hunting in Pennsylvania.

It does not seem as if all groups are happy with the changes to date and the bill still has a ways to go before it becomes law. It is currently in the House Appropriations Committee and it will be there until after Labor Day. If and when it makes it to the senate floor, it faces stiff opposition from other bills that might prove more "voter-friendly" to those facing re-election in this election year.

Either way, expect heated debate from all sides if and when the bill ever gets before members of the state legislature. And it should be noted that while the new version does mandate additional floor space for kenneled dogs as well as access to an outdoor exercise area twice the size of the dog's primary enclosure, it does not prevent the existence of large scale, multi-breed, reproductive factories. It does makes the requirements for operating one, more "humane," but these requirements need to be enforced.

"Every day that goes by without action on H.B. 2525 only prolongs the suffering of dogs kept in commercial breeding kennel cages their entire lives," says Jessie Smith, Pennsylvania's special deputy secretary for dog law enforcement.

I believe Governor Rendell, whose own golden retriever, Maggie, was rescued from a puppy mill, has his heart in the right place when it comes to animal welfare and it would be a great legacy to have this bill ratified before he leaves office.

Those of you in Pennsylvania can make your support known by contacting your local state representative and voicing your support for H. B. 2525.

Saturday, August 23, 2008

The Tale of Phoebe's Tail

We have had quite a few days with the divine Miss Phoebe. It all started on Monday morning, 1:30 AM to be exact, when she woke me up whining and crying in obvious pain. She did not seem to be able to get comfortable. Up. Down. In. Out. She finally collapsed on the cool kitchen tile and let me get some sleep.

Of course I took her to the vet Monday and she said she thought she had sprained her tail. Her tail did hang down between her legs and she was miserable. Just to be sure, she thought she would check her anal glands, and when she did she felt a lump. Oh, no. It needed to be aspirated, which required general anesthesia because of the delicate location.

Which is why Tuesday AM, bright and early, I drove Phoebe back to the vet to get the lump aspirated. Of course she had continued her dawn patrol maneuvers, so I was slightly bleary eyed and Phoebe was not a happy camper to be returning to the place where they did nothing the day before to make her feel better.

I actually had to work out of town on Tuesday but I called the vet in the afternoon to get the report. "You'll never believe this," the receptionist told me. "There was no lump." Are you kidding, I thought. They knocked her out for no reason. I told her to have the vet call me back.

Which she did and there was no lump. This was of course, after they had given her a nice shave and had her sedated. "So it must be the tail," she concluded. "I'm sending her home with painkillers. Let me know how she is."

I can't believe it but I am incredibly relieved. I hear lump and I already have her halfway to Penn to the oncology department with which I am all too familiar. But I'll settle for a sprained tail any day.

Of course, Miss P. is none too pleased with her new haircut and very dopey from the drugs, but I think I will be able to sleep tonight. Finally.

I'm just not sure the insurance company is going to be convinced of the need for a rectal exam under anesthesia.....

Friday, August 22, 2008

Greatest American Dog, Revisited

So you already know that I am somewhat of a reality show junkie and that I admit to watching The Greatest American Dog, which runs on Wednesday nights on CBS. This week's episode, however, has me rethinking my infatuation with the show.

We are down to a handful of owners and dogs and the competition is starting to heat up. However the challenge that the producers concocted for the show this week was too "breed" intensive to be, in my opinion, a fair challenge.

It went something like this: three adorable golden retriever puppies (and you wonder why I like this show?) were released into a "bonding" area to "acclimate" with each dog still in the competition. When they were used to each other, the owner of the dog in the competition went to the end of a maze made out of hedges and called his/her dog. The object was for the dog in the show to lead the three puppies out of the maze to find the owner.

Well, for a herding dog, like Leroy, the Australian Shepherd who won the competition in a dazzling display, this was a no-brainer. Bred to "herd," Leroy relied on his instinct to gather up the pups and get them to their final destination. But for a toy dog like the Maltese Andrew, this was a joke. How on earth could this dog be expected to accomplish this feat? It simply is not in his realm of comprehension. Same for the boxer Presley who, the judges scolded was "too focused on his owner and not enough on the puppies." Well of course he could care less about the puppies, since he was not bred to round them up.

There was an interesting spat between judges Victoria Stillwell and Wendy Diamond about the training techniques one contestant used--one thought they were too "dominance-based;" the other thought they were "brilliant,"--followed by a made-for-TV-apology that was totally unbelievable, but instead of fighting amongst themselves, the judges should be devising challenges that do not rely on instinct and truly level the playing field between breeds.

Don't ask me what these are. But all I know is that Amos, who is not to be confused with a "trained competitor," would have nosed those puppies out of the maze in record time because he too is a herding dog, while Phoebe probably would have ignored them en route to find me and perhaps, food.

And who is to say that they are not both Great American Dogs?

Thursday, August 21, 2008

Local Olympian

How's this for a local Olympic connection? Over the weekend, we had all three kids in town and we were enjoying a great dinner Sunday night when son #1 piped up with the announcement that a friend of his from Penn was on the Women's Olympic 8 crew team. "I almost forgot abut it," he said. "But I think her race is on television."

No sooner had we finished the dishes, than what should come on NBC but the Women's 8 race from Beijing and there was "Susan" (Francia), in the third seat. At least that's what our son told us. You know we were cheering her home and imagine our great surprise when they won!!

Son #1 quickly checked her Facebook page (they are apparently Facebook "friends") and it confirmed what we had just seen. "Susan is an Olympic champion" it read under a photo of her wearing the gold Medal.

The rest of the story was available in our local paper this morning. A graduate of Abington High School (also in our neck of the woods), Susan Francia graduated from Penn four years ago and has been training ever since at the Princeton Olympic Training Center in Princeton, New Jersey. She is one year ahead of son #1 but apparently they had quite a few classes in common. Enough for her to mention to him that she was indeed going to train for the Olympics once she graduated.

Pretty amazing. And it puts those four years into perspective. During that same time period, son #1 earned two Masters degrees (one from an American university one from a European one). The gold medal and the two sheepskins will probably ultimately "pay" similar dividends but I don't think she will have as hard a time finding a job as my son did.

Talk about the power of sports....

Wednesday, August 20, 2008

That's Sir Nils Olav, to You

About twelve years ago, my sister and I visited our third sister who had married a man from South Africa and was spending most of the winter in Cape Town. One of the highlights of our trip was a visit to a beach where a colony of Jackass penguins live. It was fabulous--you sit on the beach and hundreds of penguins come right up to you. If they get too curious, a warden, wearing a full safari outfit and wielding a cane, comes and shoos them away.

So I was delighted to learn that a King penguin was knighted by Norway last Friday. It was quite an adorable sight on NBC News, the penguin waddling up and down the aisle of uniformed soldiers, sporting his knighthood badge on his right wing.

The relationship of the penguin to the Norwegian King's Guard goes back to 1972 when he was selected by lieutenant Nils Egelien to be the group's mascot. The guards often tour the Edinburgh Zoo, where the penguin lives, during the Edinburgh Military Tatoo, an annual military musical festival. The guards named the first penguin Nils Olav, after the lieutenant and then King Olav V. When the first penguin died, he was replaced by another penguin who inherited the name and rank.

The current penguin is the third one with the same name. He was promoted from honorable regimental sergeant major to honorary colonel in chief in 2005. The knighthood ceremony was full of pomp and circumstance. Nils Olav was escorted by the King's Guard Color Detachment and he reviewed the troops. British Major General Euan Loudon, on behalf of Norway's King Harald Loudon, touched the king's sword on both of Nils' shoulders and bestowed his new badge on his right wing.

For his part, Nils Olav seemed to take it all in stride. That's Sir Nils Olav, of course. And it seems as if there will always be one.

Tuesday, August 19, 2008

Disaster Planning

There was a horrific fire in an apartment complex outside of Philadelphia last week and while there were no human casualties, the disaster killed many of the pets that shared their homes with the 375 people who are now displaced. The apartments were known for being pet friendly and it seems that the majority of the residents took advantage of that policy. The day after the accident found dozens of owners scouring the grounds for signs of their beloved, missing companions.

According to Cindy Otto, an associate professor of critical care at the University of Pennsylvania School of Veterinary Medicine, it is difficult to estimate how many dogs and cats lose their lives each year due to fire. "It's almost impossible to track," she noted. "The big thing is, be prepared to evacuate. It's something that needs to be in place before any disaster happens."

What this means specifically is to have a pet friendly destination in mind, plenty of dog food and medication on hand and carriers for your pet(s) ready and accessible. I am OK when it comes to the first two: I keep absurd amounts of food and meds. on hand and have relatives who live within striking distance that love my pets, but I do not have carriers assembled, for my canine crew. I have collapsible crates in the attic, since that is where they go when we are finished with the process, but after reading this article, I think I am going to move them to the garage or shed to make them more accessible. I also have the carrier that Sammy arrived in, but there is no way anyone is going to fit into this anymore, so I believe I will offer it to my mother for one of her smaller dogs.

The dog food lives in the garage and is very accessible so I think we'd be able to grab some and run if we had to. Just reading this account makes me realize how little time might be available in a true emergency. One resident of the local fire was headed out to the gym in the building when he heard the fire alarm. He thought it was a test and almost left his rat terrier in his crate when he saw ash in the sky. "I ran up the fire escape and grabbed my dog and my phone," he said. "That was it."

So think about it and plan accordingly. Hopefully you will never have to put your plan into action.

Monday, August 18, 2008

First Pooch

The Dog Days of Summer are filed with lots of speculation about what type of pup will occupy the Obama residence come late November, wherever that might be. As many of you might know, the presumed Democratic nominee made a promise to his daughters that when the race is over, regardless of the outcome, they can get a dog.

The AKC is so invested in the Obama family's decision that they have even created a survey to help the first time dog owners pick the right pooch. The Obama kids have allergies so the ballot is limited to hypoallergenic breeds but you can register your preference at before tomorrow when the poll closes.

Of course, choosing a pedigree pup comes with its own set of sub-narratives. Shouldn't the democratic Obamas select one from their local pound? What does it say about the "people's candidate" if he selects one from a high-brow breeder? And then what type should it be? The bichon-frise, a lovable bundle of white hypoallergenic ball of fluff, is after all French? The Portugese water dog, also non-shedding, is Portugese? You get my drift. Are there even any all- American hypo-allergenic breeds?

And if that dog should happen to one day inhabit the White House, well there are big paws to fill. Franklin Roosevelt's dog, Fala, had a Press Secretary and Millie, the Senior Bushs' springer spaniel who gave birth while in residence, even wrote a best seller. And of course, there was the legendary Checkers.

McCain it should be noted has four dogs which may be one of the reasons that an AP-Yahoo News poll in June found that pet owners favored the senator from Arizona over the one from Illinois, 42% to 37%.

Even more intriguing to me is not so much what type of dog the Obamas choose but who ultimately will take care of it. If the idea is to teach their children about responsibility, compassion and commitment, the Obamas would do well to make sure that their children do in fact take hold of the leash. Otherwise, I'm afraid the poor pup will get lost in the shuffle...

And if they ever want to try a breed or two out in this decision making phase, well, my three pups would be delighted to oblige. After all, Phoebe already thinks she lives in the White House....

Sunday, August 17, 2008

Summer Reading

So I am almost finished The Life of Edgar Sawtell, the hefty first novel from David Wroblewski, and truth be told, I am trying to savor it because it is just so incredibly magical. Much has been written about the Hamlet-like plot, but that seems to me to be, in some ways, icing on the cake. The language is melodious and somehow seems to capture that one to one sympatico that dog owners share with their dogs without it being overly sentimental or trite. A fine line and a fine read.

Which is why I read with interest about another book that explores the relationship between people and dogs based on an actual theory of evolution. Dorothy Hearst has also written a debut novel, Promise of the Wolves, a fantasy work that draws upon research that suggests humans and wolves (and then dogs) have a long, involved history. "The book is based quite a bit on the theory of co-evolution, which is the idea that wolves and later dogs are what made us the dominant species on the planet--that we evolved because of them and they evolved because of us," she said.

The theory, which is not without its detractors, suggests that humans grew stronger because of their interaction with and ultimate domestication of wolves and wolves became less "wolf-like" and more dog-like. "We made dogs and dogs made us," Hearst elaborated. "Some of the genetic evidence suggests that wolves and humans have been together for 150,000 years--and other evidence that suggests it could have happened before we were even fully human."

All of which sounds like a fascinating premise for a novel, even if fantasy is not usually my cup of tea. The story concerns a she-wolf, Kaala, whose desire to hunt with humans is not looked upon very highly by members of her pack. The animals in her book have the ability to communicate, a la Watership Down, and the debut novel is part of a trilogy being called "The Wolf Chronicles."

I am very intrigued by a woman who has this to say about the bond between humans and dogs: "There is no other animal we feel this way about. We love dogs more than anything else, and they're really the only animal we think of as not outside of ourselves. We think of them as family, as our children. I really think it is something that goes far back into our past--that the two species have been linked for a very long time."

I have to admit it makes perfect sense to me.

Saturday, August 16, 2008

Puppy Mills Redux

There was a horribly depressing story in The Philadelphia Inquirer on Wednesday about two puppy mill operators who killed their entire kennel populations (between 70 and 80 dogs) rather than comply with court orders to have their dogs examined by a vet. Apparently paying for both the examinations and the treatment these examinations would have required was too expensive for these breeders to consider. So they shot the dogs.

It is legal in Pennsylvania for dog owners to put their dogs down by shooting them and since euthanasia by a vet has a price tag attached, that is the route these two breeders took. According to the Inquirer, Elmer Zimmerman, one of the breeders in question, "feared the Department of Agriculture was trying to close him down and that he destroyed the dogs on his veterinarian's recommendation." Ammon Zimmerman (no word if he is related to Elmer), said that his decision to destroy his dogs was his "business."

Needless to say the Dog Warden, Jessie Smith, who ordered that the dogs be taken to a vet, is appalled at the Zimmermans' actions. "It's horrible but it's legal," she said. "That someone would shoot 70 dogs rather than spend money to do a vet check is extremely problematic. If the definition of a puppy mill is putting profits over care of the dogs, this is a stark example of doing that."

To me, what this is, is a bone chilling example of why you should NEVER buy a puppy from a pet shop even if they tell you that they don't buy from puppy mills. Because they all do.

There are two bright lights in this story. One is the fact that both men surrendered their kennel licenses and put themselves out of business. And the second is that the state House is considering legislation requiring that dogs be euthanized only by a vet.

Friday, August 15, 2008

No Foot, No Horse

Rumor has it that Big Brown's next race will be a made-to-order on the turf event at Belmont--a race designed for him to win before the Breeder's Cup Classic, a "gimmee." To me this reeks of only one thing: sore feet.

Turf is notoriously softer on the tootsies and if you remember, Big Brown's last workout before the Haskell was on the turf, a fact that had horse people scratching their heads. Trainers don't usually switch surfaces on a daily basis, especially before big races. Once again, to me, a red flag: sore feet.

Let me tell you about sore feet: it is miserable. I have had a major issue with the bottom of my left foot for almost two years and when it is inflamed, it is agony. Three doctors have yet to come up with a solution other than orthotics, which don't do much, and I am about to venture into the land of alternative medicine. I can tell you from direct experience that when your feet hurt, especially the bottoms of your feet, the last thing you want to do is run. Walking is sometimes so painful, it feels like you are walking on your bones. Trust me. I know about sore feet. And I don't know how they are going to make Big Brown run when his hurt, other than on painkillers, which, I believe, Iavarone has forbidden.

Let me tell you something else about the steroids that Big Brown was on. They reduced the inflammation in his feet because that is what steroids do. They made him feel better, eat better and perform better because he wasn't hurting, anywhere. Take them away, and he runs on the turf. No mystery here. As they say, "No foot, no horse."

I don't think he should be running at all and chances are that he won't. This mysterious made-to-order race won't fill or the horse will develop another "quarter crack" or some other ailment. He isn't going to like the turf or a synthetic surface anymore than he likes the dirt--running just plain hurts.

What we have here is an example of owners trying to increase the value of their Belmont disappointment and work their way into contention for Horse of the Year. They are campaigning hard and at the expense of some really sore feet.

Let him walk away while he still can.

Thursday, August 14, 2008

An Evening in Vermont

The Jacksons have been busy! Not only did they attend the yearling sales in Saratoga, in the middle of last week, they managed to slip away to East Dorset, Vermont to attend an "Equine Evening" to honor Barbaro and benefit laminitis.

Part of the Vermont Summer Festival in East Dorset, and held in the Grand Prix Pavilion, the evening included a raffle for generous prizes. All proceeds went to the Laminitis Research Fund, the Barbaro Foundation, the program established by Gulfstream Park that oversees an annual scholarship for vet students as well as the Spring Hill Horse Rescue in Clarendon, Vt. All in all, the event raised over $12.000 for these worthy causes.

Gretchen Jackson was one of the evening's featured speakers. "I feel like I've said this so many times; Barbaro opened our hearts to what horses mean to us," she told the crowd. "We never expected what happened to Barbaro, but are thankful for all the positive things he has brought."

One of those things, as Dr. James Orsini, of New Bolton Center, noted in his remarks, is the fact that laminitis "has been turned into a household word and that has helped us gain the means to move forward and better understand the disease, and most importantly, prevent it." Orsini, who is heading up Penn's effort to conquer the disease, described some of the advances that have been made in preventative technology, including a variable temperature ice boot designed to reduce inflammation in the hoof.

According to Roy, who wrapped up the proceedings, the Laminitis Fund has raised "approximately $1.5 million." He noted that he and Gretchen continue to receive mail from Barbaro's admirers. "We have received letters from every state and 15 foreign countries," he said. "Barbaro has inspired more optimism and positive causes than we could have ever imagined."

Which is no doubt why, despite the dreary weather, when Gretchen took to the stage, the clouds parted and for the first time that day, the sun showed its face to light the twilight.

Wednesday, August 13, 2008


There is a great story on by Steve Haskin about one of the 33 "miracle horses" who were rescued from the Cavel International slaughter house at the last minute, when the Supreme Court issued a ruling to shut down the facility in April, 2007. HSUS was instrumental in saving these horses when they teamed up with Denkai Animal Sanctuary in Colorado, which is where they were shipped. After about a week, Denaki helped distribute the horses to new homes, except for seven, which they kept on their premises.

One of the horses who found a new home is named Gus and was adopted in May, 2007 by Christine Schultz. Her plan was to turn what she thought was a seven year old ex-thoroughbred, into a dressage horse.

After months of research, all the while nursing Gus back to health, Christine was able to determine that the tattoo on Gus' lip, which her vet believed to be composed of all numbers, actually began with the letter B. As Haskin writes: "The mystery finally was solved. The 'young' thoroughbred Schulz had obtained...was named Ribot Dream, who amazingly, was 36 years old." Ribot Dream was a great-great grandson of the famed champion, Ribot, and during his two year racing career, from 1974-76, he made 24 starts, won three races and earned $4,551.

What happened to him since then, will always remain a mystery. The only sure thing is that he was sold for slaughter at the age of 35.

In the meantime, Ribot Dream has been "reborn" at the age of 36 and is living a happy, healthy life in Schulz' care. His best friend is another "miracle" horse, a 13 year old thoroughbred and quarter horse mix named Smiley. "Smiley, despite suffering from ringbone, a badly bowed tendon, and arthritis, is doing as well as can be expected, and he and Gus remain inseparable," writes Haskin.

The fate of the other five "miracle" horses that were sent to Denaki is on their website. As for Gus, well, he is in great hands. "I am committed to giving him the end he really deserves--being loved, safe and treasured, living like no one else," says Schulz.

Tuesday, August 12, 2008

Breeders' Cup Decisions

Bravo to the Board of Directors of the Breeders' Cup Ltd., for taking a zero tolerance stand on the use of anabolic steroids in either the championship races to be held at Santa Anita in October or in those stakes races that are part of the Breeders' Cup Challenge series.

As reported in the Thoroughbred Times, "Trainers of horses that test positive for anabolic steroids at this year's Breeders' Cup World Championships at Santa Anita Park will face a one-year suspension from the event," and trainers who "violate steroid regulations three times will face a lifetime ban from participating" in what has become one of the sport's premier events.

In addition, Breeders' Cup, Ltd. will no longer fund purses for Breeders' Cup Challenge races or award these coveted races to tracks that have not adopted Racing Commissioners International model rules on steroids. All international races that have already been run in the Challenge series have followed these rules, which ban the use of steroids.

Kudos to Breeders Cup Chairman, William S. Farish, Jr. for taking such a public and persuasive stand--literally putting the money where his mouth is. "The Breeders' Cup board believes it's crucial that we take a leadership role in eliminating anabolic steroids from our sport," Farish said. "We encourage each race track and racing jurisdiction to move swiftly in enacting these much-needed regulations."

Readers may remember that Roy Jackson was recently elected to the Board of Directors of The Breeders' Cup. Certainly this savvy move is one example of how the "powers that be" in the sport do indeed have influence from within the industry to change the way the game is played. In a recent Bloodhorse editorial, Editor-In-Chief Dan Liebman suggests another tactic. The American Graded Stakes Committee, he argues, has equal leverage in eliminating the use of drugs by tying the coveted "grade" rankings to a track's ability to meet certain medication guidelines.

"Should a track decide it does not wish to comply, the result is simple: the stakes at that track--all of them--are ineligible to be considered for grading by the committee until such time as the track agrees to comply," he writes.

Both of these moves use the power of governance systems already in place to regulate certain conditions within the industry and demonstrate legitimate concern for the horses that compete. Not only do they demonstrate the level of concern among insiders that currently exists with regard to the future of the sport, they demonstrate to Congress, that self-policing is indeed possible.

Is is too little too late? I'm not sure, but it is certainly a breath of fresh air.

Monday, August 11, 2008

Ride On!

For those of you who are planning a trip to Saratoga in the near future, be sure to check out the exhibit at the National Museum of Racing on equine medicine. "Ride On!" is currently on display through December 2009.

This exhibit marks the curatorial debut of Beth Sheffer who has worked at the museum since 2002 and it takes up the entire Peter McBean Gallery, which is usually divided into three separate exhibits. The focus of the exhibit is the progress of equine medicine and as you might have guessed, all the big name horses who suffered injuries are represented, including Ruffian, Barbaro and even Big Brown.

Memorabilia includes a special adhesive shoe that Big Brown wore in this year's Kentucky Derby and a boot that was used on Barbaro to stabilize his injured leg. There is also the infamous sling, complete with life size horse mannequin resting in it. Apparently the sling, which costs $5000, is on loan to the museum for the duration of the exhibit.

Sabina Pierce, Barbaro's official photographer, is represented in the exhibit. One of her pictures of Dr. Richardson examining one of Barbaro's radiographs has been enlarged to six feet by four feet. The plan is for the exhibit to add more items as they become available and it is expected that Barbaro memorabilia will increase over time.

Certainly the overall message of the exhibit is that equine medicine has made remarkable progress over time. Such perspective is helpful especially when it comes to evaluating the status of such current challenges as eradicating laminitis. The fact remains that veterinary medicine has come a long way!

Sunday, August 10, 2008

The Barbaro Story, Revisited

So a little update on my thinking with regard to the status of my still unsold Barbaro manuscript is probably in order. No it hasn't sold--unless I am the last to hear the news--but in some ways, this all may be OK.

It is two years since I signed that contract with the Jacksons to write the story of their remarkable horse, but it was always understood, that I wasn't going to write this book on spec. In other words, no sale, no book. So I wrote a very detailed 100 plus page proposal in which I outlined the entire book, chapter by chapter (and which, by the way, not a single editor at a single publishing house in New York has said that they dislike), and no takers. These decisions, as I am told, are made by committees made up of sales and marketing gurus as well as editors. The bottom line is that sales and marketing is hesitant to take a chance on an unknown with an known story. Now if Gretchen or Roy were to write their version of the book, that would be a different story....

What has happened in the interim is that the story has continued to develop and is now, I believe a very different one from the original drama. This is now not a tale of survival but of legacy and I think it is time to write that.

So after a lot of thought, I have decided to do that but not as originally planned. I have one class left to get my Masters of Liberal Arts degree and one thesis to write--two semesters of work-- and that is what I am going to do. I have managed to enlist the key "horse person" academic at Penn to serve as my advisor for an independent study first semester in which I plan to outline this book and organize the research that is taking over my office, probably narrowing down the various topics that point in many directions.

And then I am going to write something that definitely will begin where Barbaro ended and explore what he inspired on many different levels. It will have to tell his story of course but it seems to me the real story begins after he dies. How a horse inspired change.

So here's where you come in. I am the kind of person who likes to have a working title and all the ones I have come up with fall a bit flat. See what you come up with and let me know. Any and all suggestions are welcome, now and going forward. After all, you're part of this journey that needs to gain validity by finally putting pen to paper....

Saturday, August 9, 2008

Chick Magnets

My kids know from first hand experience that puppies are natural "chick magnets." They all have "borrowed" Sammy at different times to exploit his cuteness and attract a crowd of admirers. Sammy seems to relish the attention and does his part effortlessly, I might add.

Well it seems as if this natural ability of puppies and kittens to attract the opposite sex has actually led to a ban on both selling dogs and cats as pets and walking them in public in Riyadh, Saudi Arabia.

According to an AP story in The Philadelphia Inquirer, the ban went into effect last week and "authorities in the city say they will strictly enforce it--unlike previous bans in the cities of Mecca and Jidda, which have been ignored and failed to stop pet sales."

Violators will have their pets confiscated by the "religious police," officially known as the Commission for the Promotion of Virtue and Prevention of Vice. The problem, according to the Commission, is using pets to "make passes at women," ultimately leading to "mixing" of unmarried men and women. "The religious police prowl streets and malls throughout the kingdom, ensuring that unmarried men and women do not mix, confronting women who they feel are not properly covered, or urging men to go to prayers," says the author, Donna Abu-nasi.

It is not clear whether or not this ban will go the way of others like the now defunct 2004 ban on cameras on cell phones, which were feared because men and women might exchange photos. Some speculate that this latest prohibition is part of a continuing trend to ban any influences of Western culture, like fast food, jeans, pop music, that have become more and more prevalent in the kingdom. Keeping pets is just the latest Western trend to make its way to the Arab world, where it is becoming increasingly fashionable to own a pet, even though in Islamic tradition, dogs are believed to be unclean and dangerous.

For the sake of the cats and dogs, who, unlike cell phones, are living beings, lets hope the owners of these pets prevail.

Friday, August 8, 2008

Task Force of Synthetic Surfaces

The debate about synthetic racing surfaces heated up last week at Saratoga when a panel of experts convened to discuss the pros and cons of synthetic tracks versus traditional dirt ones. Since the forum was convened by the New York Task Force on Retired Racehorses, the underlying topic was no doubt the future of New York's racing surfaces (although I think its fairly safe to say that not much is going to change in the foreseeable future) but at heart, it was also a discussion of tradition.

A couple of themes were clear, the primary one being the lack of hard core data regarding the safety of one surface over another. Just as there are differences in dirt tracks, there are differences in synthetic ones and it is clear that the "business" aspect of synthetic surfaces may be more of a factor than previously revealed.

Case in point, Sally Goswell of Fair Hill commented that the ongoing relationship the Maryland training facility had with Michael Dickinson, creator of the Tapeta surface at Fair Hill, was paramount in both the decision to select as well as maintain that surface. "We'd be in trouble" if Dickinson retired or returned to training, she admitted. Compare that to the difficult time that Santa Anita had with the vendors of their Cushion Track surface last winter and it becomes clear that not all synthetic surfaces are created equal.

As for tradition, well according to Nick Zito, "There are good dirt tracks around America and we need to preserve them. If you went to a Polytrack situation, you would change history."

I think tradition would be willing to change if innovation, in the form of hard core data on synthetic racing surfaces, resulted in less injuries to horses and riders. The problem with that data is going to be that there is no universal "dirt" surface against which to compare it. There are deep, hard and soft dirt tracks and until there is a consistent, uniform dirt track at all race tracks the data is going to be dicey.

In my opinion, the industry should commission research with the goal of mandating race tracks across the country install either a universal synthetic surface or a universal dirt surface. In other words, first determine which dirt surface is the safest and which synthetic surface is the safest before trying to compare one to the other.

Until then, we're comparing apples to oranges and the data will always be suspect.

Thursday, August 7, 2008

Humane Education

In the category of "don't judge a book by its cover," I'd like to introduce you to the New York based organization, Rescue Ink, a group of tattoo-sporting, leather-wearing, biker types who usually strike fear in the hearts of animal abusers. Launched in New York, but quickly forming chapters in New Jersey, Pennsylvania and Virginia, this group of "hulk" types goes to the mat to defend, protect and rescue animals in every shape and form from those who do not have their best interests at heart.

Peruse their website and you will see their profiles: body builders, cement workers, retired firefighters and heavy duty biker types, and learn of their ability to get their message across, often because of their imposing appearances. "We communicate politely and rationally," says executive director Robert Missari. Right. Don't mess with a burly man wearing leather.

It seems as if this group of big softies is on to something. According to USA Today, "The anti-cruelty message that decades ago consisted mostly of cheerful be-kind-to-animals posters that appeared in classrooms every May is now a massive, multi-faceted crusade that falls under the rubric of 'humane education.'"

Hmmmm. Kind of makes you wonder what inspired the need for such teaching. Are we, the great pet-loving nation (so it seems) simultaneously harboring or even supporting a network of those who treat their pets with "benign" or even worse, intentional neglect. Or have they always been there and we, as a country, have just grown more intolerant of their behavior?

Who knows. But it seems as if you can now get a graduate degree in humane education from the Institute for Humane Eduction (online, of course) and attend workshops on the subject. Even the staid ASPCA has developed several programs, including awards to authors of "humane" literature, to advance the subject and even has a staff person, Sheryl Pipe, who is senior director of humane eduction.

According to the American Humane Association, creators of Be Kind to Animal Week (started in 1915), "there's a link between animal cruelty and other forms of violence" and they have endowed a $1 million chair in the graduate school of social work at the University of Denver to investigate that link.

It seems pretty obvious to me that humane education applies to all forms of humanity and if teaching people to be kind to living creatures implies treating humans as well as animals with compassion, then they have my blessing. It's just sad that people need to be taught what should be second nature.

But then again, if setting those biker types loose on the perpetrators of puppy mills gets the job done, then fire up that Harley!

Wednesday, August 6, 2008

Got Your Goat?

So what's on your dinner plate? Diners at Oliveto in Oakland, California are feasting on goat in many forms including sheep's milk ravioli with goat sugo, seared goat loin with purslane and lemon, goat sausages with mint and honey and goat chops fried Milanese style.

Before you gag, I should point out that goat is a staple in many Latino and South Asian cultures and it is usually available in markets that cater to these communities. Indians and Pakistanis uses goat in curries and according to Niloufer Icaporia King, author of My Bombay Kitchen, many Indian lamb recipes are more authentic when made with goat.

In fact, Bill Niman, the founder of the famed Niman Ranch--the premier ranch for raising grass fed cattle--has even gotten into the act. According to an article in the San Francisco Chronicle, Niman (who is no longer affiliated with his original company), has begun selling goats from his personal ranch in Bolinas, California. Both Marin Sun Farms and Don Watson's Napa Lamb Co., specialty meat purveyors, have added goat to their offerings.

Goat meat is gaining in popularity among California diners. "I had a hard time selling it for a long, long time," says Marsha McBride, chef-owner of Cafe Rouge, who has a large variety of goat dishes on her menu.

Goats are also gaining in popularity as "green lawn mowers" since they will eat virtually any type of shrubs. In fact, Don Watson also pairs goats with sheep in a business he calls Wooly Weeders. "If you really want to devastate a bushy area, goats will do it," he says. The goats he sells for meat are a "by-product."

I am certainly not going to tell you what or what not to eat, but I, for one, think I will pass on the goat. Somehow the thought of eating something that will eat virtually anything does not sit well, especially if we are what we eat. But who am I to judge?

Tuesday, August 5, 2008

The Dark Side of Zero Tolerance

Alex Brown has an interesting post on the Paulick Report about the "dark side" of the recent decisions by racetracks such as Suffolk Downs to adopt a policy of zero tolerance for horse slaughter. "On the surface, this policy sounds excellent," he writes, especially when combined with retirement and rescue facilities currently in existence.

But, he wonders, since these facilities are already overcrowded, will these zero tolerance stances by racetracks merely encourage the trainers who are contemplating selling their no-longer performing thoroughbred to kill buyers, to go "underground" and continue the practice? "Rather than go to a public auction like New Holland, where they can be seen by private buyers and horse resuces, they go directly to kill buyer feedlots and kill pens," he hypothesizes. "Fewer racehorses may enter the slaughter pipeline, but more may be ultimately slaughtered."

It is an interesting stance and one that is worth contemplating. Brown's theory certainly played out in the Prohibition Era--banned liquor emerged underground. It makes you wonder, of course, if racing adopted a zero tolerance stance toward drugs, would they follow suit? We all know stories of human athletes who "push the envelope" with drugs they try to hide (look no farther than Floyd Landis who still claims innocence). Are we to assume that horse trainers would do the same thing? Some would and some wouldn't.

The larger question is if a zero tolerance policy merely drives the practice underground, than what public stance works? Brown advocates for a zero tolerance policy combined with additional resources to house "retired" racehorses. Perhaps some of a racetracks' purse monies should be diverted for this purpose (ideally each track would have their own retirement facility), but I can't see some tracks being able to support such a notion when their purses are already small.

The answer seem to be a collective realization of the problem as well a collaborative solution among all parties that participate in horse racing; owners, trainers and race track management. Surely it is the least they can do for the animals that provide their livelihood.

Monday, August 4, 2008

Thoughts on the Haskell

Michael Iavarone and Rick Dutrow must be breathing again after Big Brown, no doubt, caused them to hold their breaths down the stretch in the Haskell yesterday. I watched it and it wasn't pretty--in fact it was pretty bad. Coal Play gave him a run for his money and ran like a race horse. Big Brown veered way wide and finished in the middle of the track, somehow only getting into his mythical "next" gear within sight of the finish line.

This is NOT the same horse that won the Kentucky Derby and Preakness so effortlessly. This is a horse that is finished. Sore feet. Sore muscles. Sore back. Who knows? But if nothing else, yesterday's demonstration was a clear indication that it was not training and not riding that made Big Brown win the first two legs of the Triple Crown. It was whatever else they shot into him and probably put in his food. And you can't tell me it didn't make a difference.

Big Brown is a mediocre race horse that was shot full of chemicals to make him appear to be a superstar. Take away those chemicals and he seemed way outclassed in a race that should have been a romp in the park.

Make no mistake about it--Dutrow is not doing anything that most in the business do. It's just that he now has to race clean or lose the gig training for Iavarone and partners. And I don't think he wants to put his career on the line with Big Brown ever again. So my guess is that they won't run him in the Travers , much less the Breeder's Cup--which is drug free, by the way, and retire him to stud to sire more horses with problematic feet.

There was a fascinating article in The Philadelphia Inquirer yesterday about H. Lee Sweeney, chairman of the physiology department at Penn's medical school. His research into muscular dystrophy involves the injection of synthetic genes. Apparently after he gave a talk about his work in Beijing, he was invited by Chinese scientists to consult on how to detect the presence of these genes in athletes. You see, "for many years, Sweeney had warned of potential performance enhancing applications of his work for human athletes."

Luckily, while the injection of synthetic genes in mice has resulted in stronger legs, it has proved to be much more difficult to make the same transfer in humans. In fact, he assured the Chinese officials that no American athletes in this year's Olympics have benefited from his work. But Sweeney does think that his research "could transfer to a sport such as horse racing." In fact, he was contacted by an Australian breeder several years ago.

The specific techniques involved with Sweeney's work are so advanced that there are few people in the world who can replicate it, but the point is, there's always somebody willing to try, if, as Sweeney notes, "the money is right." And don't you know that somebody seems to be connected to horse racing.

So excuse me for being cynical but I think we saw what happens when an average racehorse is synthetically manipulated into a "super" one and then what happens when those magic pills go away.

Sunday, August 3, 2008

Social Security for Horses

Sometimes it seems the simplest solutions are the ones we overlook. Case in point is the eloquent proposal set forth by Herb Moelis, president of Thoroughbred Charities of America in the July 26 issue of Bloodhorse.

Apparently a number of years ago, Mr. Moelis proposed the following idea to The Jockey Club: "When owners register their foals, the Jockey Club requires a registration form to be filed with payment of $200," Moelis writes. "Why can't we add $50 to provide for care of the foal for life? This would be similar to a Social Security program for horses."

Sounds perfectly reasonable to me, although given the mess our Social Security system is in, I would hesitate to call it by the same name, but you get the general idea. Long-term care insurance for horses, required by the owner when the horse is registered with The Jockey Club at birth. I am sure there would need to be some sort of governing body that administered the funds and kept track of the money, but nothing that could not be overcome.

According to Moelis, "There are approximately 40,000 thoroughbreds registered each year. At $50 each the total amount assessed annually would be $2 million. This would go a long way to providing a decent life for all thoroughbreds after their racing careers."

It seems that The Jockey Club did not want to be the governing body of this program and told Moelis they thought it would be a "burden" to owners. When Moelis volunteered his organization, TCA (which maintains a comprehensive file on all rescue and retirement organizations), to help distribute the funds, it fell on deaf ears. Sounds like the Jockey Club is making excuses.

Here's my suggestion. Ask them again. Given the state of affairs that the racing industry is in, that $50 could go a long way to being a PR bonanza for the sport if spun the right way. "Racing takes care of its own from cradle to grave...." Sounds pretty good to me.

Or as Moelis writes, "If an owner cannot afford $50 when registering a foal, then that person has no business being an owner. For the welfare of our industry and the welfare of our horses, this assessment is necessary and reasonable."

Saturday, August 2, 2008

Down Under in Chester County

There is a decidedly local (as in my neck of the woods) feel to the U. S. Olympic Equestrian Team in the person of Phillip Dunn, an Australian native who, thanks to his new U. S. citizenship, will be competing for Team U. S. A. Having won a pair of gold medals for Australia at previous Olympics, he asked permission from his parents before he switched allegiances. Dutton and his wife own a farm right down the road from Roy and Gretchen Jackson and in close proximity to Penn's New Bolton Center.

The rolling hills of this beautiful horse country are also home to Michael Matz, Bruce Davidson (a member of several U. S. Olympic Equestrian teams) and horse trainer Michael Dickerson, among others, and it was their presence, plus the close proximity to top notch vets, farriers and in general, all things horsey, that attracted Dunn to this neck of the woods back in 1991. He started out working for Bruce Davidson and gradually began to develop a following of his own.

He met and married his wife Evie, fathered three daughters (whom they are now raising) and ended up buying the farm on which he once rented space. He stables 55 horses at True Prospect Farm, gives riding lessons and trains his horses. The competition in Hong Kong is expected to be to fierce and challenging--made even more so by the city's heat, smog and humidity. Chester County horses certainly know about heat and humidity but pollution is virtually non-existent in the rolling hills of the Brandywine. Because of all these unknowns, the medals are up for grabs.

"The U. S. has been in a bit of a rebuilding phase," Dutton told the Philadelphia Inquirer. "But I think we'll have a good chance. With the heat and conditions in Hong Kong, it should be an open field."

Here's wishing out new native son a good showing and safe journey.

Friday, August 1, 2008

Patience is a Virtue

Most of us know from our own experiences growing up that kids mature physically and emotionally at different rates. I was one of the tallest kids in my fifth grade class and in the middle of the pack by the time I graduated. My middle son, who today stands six foot, three inches, displayed none of that height until he was about fifteen years old. I think he grew about five inches between his sophomore and junior years in high school and then continued to grow in college. As a result, his early years on the basketball team were spent on the bench even though he ended up playing basketball in college.

In fact, a gentleman I know who once coached Duke University basketball told me a story about two recruits. They both were the same height but Duke chose the one with the taller parents, figuring the kid would continue to grow. The joke was on them when the one that got away ended up being taller.

All of which just illustrates how we love to pigeon hole our prodigy at an early age based on their appearance. We push tall kids to shoot hoops when they are ten and let the shorter ones play sports a little closer to the ground. And of course we all know kids who were tall and great at basketball at age thirteen only to be surpassed by their peers by the time they are all seventeen.

It is no different with racehorses. According to a wonderful interview in Bloodhorse (July 26 issue) with a panel of experts in the industry, there is a bias against later maturing horses. Everyone wants a January foal whose natural age will more or less correspond with the industry tradition of "aging" thoroughbreds on January 1 and therefore be an "older" three year old. According to Rob Keck, Lexington pedigree analyst, "Commercial breeders are now breeding to a stallion that was a quick maturing, fast, grade I-winning 2-year old. Soundness is no longer a virtue."

Nor is longevity on the racetrack. We don't give our horses time to mature and we don't give them time to grow into their potential. Because it is so expensive to maintain these high maintenance athletes, few can afford to let them grow up according to their inner calendars, not the ones that point them to the starting gate to start earning their keep at age 2.

Maybe it's because I am the mother of a late bloomer or maybe because I have seen too many kids discouraged by factors out of their control or maybe its just because I think everyone needs time to grow into their own skin, I'm beginning to think that we shouldn't let 2 year olds race until very late in that second year if at all.

It is expensive to be patient, in more ways than one, and there are no guarantees that taking it slow and steady makes a difference. But it all depends on your objective. Sometimes the best things do come to those who wait.....