Saturday, January 31, 2009

New Anti-Slaughter Legislation Introduced in House

A new bill designed to stop the export of horses for slaughter in Mexico and Canada has been introduced in the House of Representatives by John Conyers (D-Mich) and Dan Burton (R-Ind). The legislation, HR 503, appropriately named the Conyers-Burton Prevention of Equine Cruelty Act, is essentially the same as HR 6598, the Prevention of Equine Cruelty Act of 2008, which never received a full House vote.

This bill prohibits the transport, sale, delivery, or export of horses for slaughter for human consumption. It further criminalizes the purchase, sale, delivery, or export of horsemeat intended for human consumption. The object of the bill is clearly to abolish the existence of all facets of the horse slaughter industry once and for all.

Violators would face fines and/or one year imprisonment for a first offense, involving five or fewer horses. Repeat offenders as well as those who break the law with five or more horses face longer jail terms.

As might be expected, opponents of the bill worry that the demise of the horse slaughter industry would lead to an increase in abandoned horses. Most of these fears are ungrounded. This bill would eliminate inhumane treatment of horses being transported to an inhumane death.

According to Nancy Perry, vice president of Government Affairs for the Humane Society of the United States, "HR 6598 underwent so much scrutiny, we feel this bill will reach the full House quickly. It's a new Congress, so the bill has to go through the process from the beginning with a new name."

You can, of course, alert your local representative(s) about your support for this legislation.

Friday, January 30, 2009

Nicanor's Debut

News just in that, barring any unforeseen circumstances, Nicanor, Barbaro's brohter, will make his racing debut on Saturday at a mile on the dirt at Gulfstream Park in Florida. Word is also out that Edgar Prado, Barbaro's jockey, will be his jockey.

I know the Fans of Barbaro are eagerly anticipating this race with mixed emotions. On the one hand, they cannot wait to see the brother of their hero make his debut. On the other, they wish for a safe trip. Of course, now they know exactly how any owner feels!

Nicanor is a big, strapping colt, reminiscent of his brother, and word has it that he has been training very well under Michael Matz's watchful eye. Nobody is saying much about comparisons to his brother, but you know everyone is thinking about the similarities and differences, just the same.

The last time I saw Nicanor was when he was a yearling in Kentucky, ironically on the morning of the day his brother lost his battle with laminitis. I was visiting Mill Ridge, doing some interviews, and when they offered to let me see Nicanor, I could hardly refuse! I was struck by his presence, even as a clunky yearling with a long winter coat--and by that knowing eye which reminded me very much of Barbaro.

Did he know he was something special? I don't know--I think he was filled with that typical, yearling youthfulness, energy and "I can do anything" attitude. I can assuredly say that I do not think he felt the weight of any expectations; he was just being himself.

One thing is certain. We will know more about his personality after Saturday, regardless of where he finishes. And while I truly do not believe lightening will strike twice, anything can happen in horse racing.

I wish him a safe trip and lots of racing luck.

Thursday, January 29, 2009

Two years Ago Today...

It is hard to believe that today marks the two year anniversary of Barbaro's passing. In some ways, it feels like yesterday; in others, it feels like we have made remarkable strides since The 2006 Kentucky Derby winner left this earth.

On a personal level, it sometimes feels like I have been covering this story for a lifetime! I have amassed a file cabinet filled with clippings and academic papers and a book shelf filled to overflowing with books about horses, animals, thoroughbred racing, veterinary medicine and the history of heroes in America. On good days, I know exactly where something is that I need; on bad days, I spend hours looking for one quote that I cannot find.

But the important thing is that I am making progress on putting this story together and am very grateful for the time that I spent exploring it from various perspectives. All of my academic inquiry has taught me that the story can only be partially explained from any single academic perspective. It really needs to be examined across disciplines, using the tools and research from many of them, to make true sense of the story's appeal and longevity.

It is a little like some from Column A and some from Column B, but without knowing what was in each of those columns, I think I would have come to too superficial an explanation.

I watched an episode of Top Chef the other night in which the participants visited a farm where all the ingredients for the meals that they were to cook were raised--including the meat portion. It was important to do honor to the animals whose lives were sacrificed for the meal by butchering the meat with respect and honor and preparing it carefully and tenderly.

I hope I am providing a similar honor to Barbaro by exploring the nuances of his life, slowly, carefully and with a healthy respect for what he has come to mean to so many people.

Wednesday, January 28, 2009

Pet Two Puppies and Call Me in the Morning

Word comes from the journal Psychosomatic Medicine, that the positive effects of having a "familiar, friendly dog close by include lowered blood pressure, slowed heart beat and more relaxed muscles--all signs of reduced stress." In fact, author Stanley Coren says that dogs work better than Prozac and more quickly.

It only took five to twenty four minutes for people to exhibit signs of reduced stress when they were in the company of their dogs while it can take weeks for the effects of anti-depressant medication to kick in. "The data is absolutely unambiguous," Coren elaborated. "This actually works better than having a loved one next to you."

Coren also points to research that demonstrates that dog owners--seniors in particular--visit the doctor less and are physically more active than non-dog owners. And according to Coren, seniors who live with a dog are four times less likely to suffer from depression than non dog owners. "It's quite an amazing statistic," he concurs.

Australian researchers found that the benefits of lower blood pressure associated with dog ownership trumped such factors as smoking and eating a high-fat diet. And while dog ownership is not a panacea, researchers at Penn found that in men who had had a heart attack, those who had the companionship of a dog were more likely to be alive four years later than those who did not.

Need any more proof? Get thee a dog and live longer and stronger. But be forewarned ownership comes with responsibility, expenses and perhaps some restrictions, all of which can cause stress of their own.

So if you're not ready for ownership, maybe you can volunteer at a local shelter to walk and/or play with the dogs or pet sit for your neighbor on occasion. You may not get all the health benefits of living with a dog, but at least you'll both get some exercise and fresh air.

Tuesday, January 27, 2009

Pass It On

There was an article in the Philadelphia Inquirer last week about the cloned show jumper, Gemini, cloned from Champion Gem Twist, who died in 2006. Gemini is five months old and hasn't yet tried jumping over hurdles, but in a sense, he has broken through many of them.

The first obstacle Gemini has overcome is his very existence. In the last three years, veterinary scientists have cloned about 20 horses. The first horse was cloned by an Italian scientist in 2003 and took 17 embryos to create one foal. Since then, the success rate is about one 1 in 3.

The second hurdle was the price. Gemini's owners paid $150,000 to have cells from the frozen connective tissue of Gem Twist injected into an adult egg which grew in a petri dish before it was implanted into the uterus of a surrogate mare.

And the third barrier is the fact that defects in cloned animals appear more prominent than those in naturally conceived offspring. In other words, any small defect of Gem Twists may end up being a much larger defect in Gemini. All of that remains to be seen however, since it will be a while before we know if any or all of Gem Twists assets and/or defects were passed on to his clone.

Gem Twist's reason for existence actually has nothing to do with replicating his predecessor's illustrious career that included bearing three different riders to victories in Grand Prix championships, being named best horse in the 1990 World Equestrian Games and earning two silver medals in the 1988 Seoul Olympics. According to his owners, Gemini is destined to do something Gem Twist could not do--pass on his gene pool to another generation. Gemini will be a stud. Gem Twist was castrated early in life.

In this way, the clone becomes a link to a lost generation of genes. Interestingly enough, the article mentions the fact that had some of Barbaro's tissue been frozen, he could also have been cloned. I am not sure if the Jockey Club has a ruling on the eligibility of thoroughbreds born of a cloned sire, but it sure is an interesting puzzle to consider. My guess is that they would never permit it.

Technically, there is no guarantee that the cloned animal will be a reproduction of the original horse--only that its DNA will. How that DNA manifests itself is what is unknown.

There has been another horse cloned for similar breeding purposes: a barrel racer named Scamper. The clone was recreated with the specific purpose of passing on Scamper's (who also was castrated) genes.

Too early yet to tell if the mission was accomplished. The clone, named Clayton, is now 2 and apparently healthy although no progeny yet. "Clayton is a very confident horse," his owner said. "They sound alike and look alike and both horses have a sensitive spot behind their ears."

Monday, January 26, 2009

News of Lentenor

Even as Nicanor moves closer to his racing debut--projected to be at the end of this month according to the latest reports from the Matz camp--word comes that Lentenor is progressing nicely at his racing education "studies" at Stephens Thoroughbreds, near Ocala, Florida.

Amanda Duckworth is following both of Barbaro's brothers on her blog and she reports that Lentenor is showing signs of being a fast learner. "Lentenor's confidence has improved tremendously and rapidly," according to Jill Stephens, who also "taught" Barbaro and Nicanor. "The colt has a lot of internal energy when you're on his back and Gab [Gabriel DeJesus, their lead exercise rider] has helped him channel that energy in a positive way. He actually handles himself like an older horse on the track already. . well sort of."

Lentenor, as many of you remember, is the foal who actually "nickered" at Gretchen Jackson when she went to visit him as a baby and he held still so that she could run her hands over his body. He also bears an uncanny resemblance to Barbaro and many have seen in him, numerous "signs" of his oldest brother. It is kind of eerie that Jill Stephens chose to describe him as an "older horse" but please remember that she also qualified that statement by adding "sort of."

Lest we read too much into anything, it is important to realize that Lentenor is still learning and will remain in Florida until the Fall when he begins his serious training with Michael Matz. What that will mean, however, is that, ideally and hopefully, come next year at this time, there might be two of Barbaro's brothers in Matz's barn!

Now that is something to look forward to...

Sunday, January 25, 2009

I Need Batman to Get Robin

At the moment I am doing battle with an errant robin (yes, the bird) that for some reason decided not to fly south this Winter (I think robins fly south...) and instead roost upon the thin ledge above the window over my family room door and taunt me. Really.

This rather fat bird has made a routine of flying onto the ledge and either pecking at the glass or at the window pane itself every morning as we eat breakfast. Then periodically throughout the day, it flies back and forth from a nearby holly tree back to this ledge to continue its mission to somehow get into the house or drive me crazy.

At other times during the day, the bird just sits on my patio wall and stares me down. Truly. I am not being paranoid or crazy. This bird is out to get me or at the very least get into my house.

The most visible sign of all this persistence on his part has been the seemingly never ending trail of bird poop that now decorates my patio, the ledge above the door and my doormat. It is a constant battle--me with broom--and bird with poop and guess who seems to be winning? I just don't want the dogs parading through the stuff and tramping it into the house, which is getting almost impossible to avoid.

I have no idea if the robin is misdirected or missing a few screws, but it seems to be very robust (for all I know it is a she and pregnant) and extremely persistent. And my dogs, the great reluctant hunters that they are, are oblivious, even to the poop.

So any suggestions for getting this bird to relocate would be greatly appreciated. I can't seem to find a nearby nest and I don't feed the birds because I only seem to be feed squirrels when I do, so I don't think I am doing anything to encourage this behavior. I would just like him to take up residence somewhere else.

Anybody have any experience with bird warfare?

Saturday, January 24, 2009

Animals and Autism

I went to hear Temple Grandin last week at the Free Library and my main take-away was "Don't make it too abstract." I will explain, but first a little background.

For those of you who don't know, Grandin is probably one of the most influential authors in the U. S. about two topics that seem unrelated: animals and autism. But the key thing about Grandin is that she has autism (as well as a Ph.D. in animal behavior) and contends that it is precisely her autism that makes her such a keen expert on animal behavior.

At 61, she has written numerous books including her memoir about autism, Thinking in Pictures as well as the best-selling Animals in Translation and is on the road promoting her recent tome, Animals Make Us Human. She has been a consultant to most companies involved in the agricultural industry and has (among other things) re-designed slaughterhouses to make them less threatening to cattle, based on her ability to understand the experience from the animal's perspective.

If at first the agricultural world thought her crazy, they know realize they are crazy not to enlist her services. She is also a professor of animal behavior at Colorado State.

So it should not have been a surprise that the event spilled over from the main auditorium (that seats 300) to a room where her remarks were simulcast. The audience was an interesting mix of parents of autistic children and animal lovers and activists. To say she was preaching to the choir is an understatement, but the turnout was a testimony to her influence.

Back to "Don't make it too abstract." Grandin must have said that about six or seven times. The key, she emphasized, to understanding animal behavior is to make it as simple as possible and to try and see it from the animal's perspective. The behaviors that an animal exhibits can usually be classified as either seeking (repetitive digging, rooting), panic (separation anxiety), fear (flight) or aggression (fight). Once you figure out the behavior--by watching it--the challenge is to figure out why it is taking place.

The even bigger challenge is to simply watch the behavior without analyzing it--take a video of it in your head and then describe the video was how she put it--without making it too abstract. As an example, someone in the audience (a vet student, I believe) asked a question about why pigs chew the bars while in gestation cages. Short of banning the cages, which Proposition 2 did in California, is there any other solution? Grandin's response was to note that pigs like to root and dig. By simply providing them with fresh straw every day, a researcher in Canada had all but eliminated the chewing behavior. Sounds like a fairly simple and humane solution to what many have made a complicated issue.

It seems to me that "Don't make it too abstract" is great advice for many of the issues we face in our daily lives. Taken at face value, eliminating the overtones of emotions and intentions, many behaviors we find vexing may simply be a result of the other person not being aware of behaving differently. We could, in other words, save ourselves a lot of wasted energy, if we simply took things at face value (not for what they implied or suggested) and let them go.

Of course, I bought her book, so stay tuned for a review when I get around to reading it!

Friday, January 23, 2009

Peanut Butter Recall Extends to Pets

In conjunction with the salmonella outbreak linked to peanut butter, PetSmart has voluntarily recalled seven different kinds of its Grreat Choice Dog Biscuits because they contain peanut paste from the Georgia processing plant, believed to be the source.

The exact bar codes and names of the biscuits are listed on the PetSmart web site and the company has promised a full refund if you return the products in question.

The list of recalled products grows by the day and my guess is that you should probably toss any kind of processed food made with peanut butter just to be sure. That goes for pet food as well, which should be pretty much confined to treats and biscuits.

The FDA maintains that jar peanut butter is safe. In our house we prefer the "grind your own" peanut butter available at our local supermarket but we need to inquire about the source of the peanuts used for this purpose.

This episode only reinforces the lack of control the FDA truly has over our food sources. Trust me when I tell you that the lack of government oversight that sent our financial system into a tailspin is equally evident in most government agencies--the old crony system at play--and until Obama gets his new players in place, buyer beware.

In the meantime, toss the peanut butter products.

Thursday, January 22, 2009

Jockeys on Animal Planet

Set your TIVOS for February 6 at 9:00 PM (Eastern Time) for the premiere of Animal Planet's new series, Jockeys. Advance buzz is that this reality-series-docu-drama, filmed at California's Santa Anita racecourse last Fall, is well done and worth viewing. I will pass judgement once I see a complete episode but the players certainly sound intriguing:

Mike Smith, Hall of Fame Jockey who will do whatever it takes to win
Joe Talamo, Young Rider eager to push his way up the ladder and earn better mounts
Chantal Sutherland, One of two females but she's tough and Mike Smith's girlfriend
Alex Solis, Trying to make a comeback from a broken back

There are other "players" to be sure, playing such predictable roles as "the Cal Ripken-type consummate work horse" (Aaron Gryder) and the "veteran" (Jon Court) but face it even without the stereotypes the drama among jockeys is well worth documenting. They are, after all, athletes who have chosen to compete in one of the world's most dangerous sports.

Add to this the fact that last Fall, Santa Anita experienced many difficulties with its newly installed synthetic surface, and you have yet another variable to add to the mix.

Sounds like a recipe for intrigue and excitement and you know that the photography will be great. Check back in after Feb. 6 for my take and let me know yours.

Wednesday, January 21, 2009

The Dangers of Xylitol

Do you chew sugarless gum? Eat sugarless Tic Tacs? Do you have a pet?

If you answered "Yes" to all of the above, you need to be very aware of the risk that xylitol--the artificial sweetener used to make your sugar-free treats taste sweet--poses to your pets.

In a word, xylitol can kill. A friend of mine just returned from two days in the Emergency Room cuddling and comforting her six year old Maltese who ate a pack of sugarless gum. Verdict: He is going to pull through, thank heavens, but not without damage to his liver and pancreas. It was touch and go for a day or so.

Please, please do not eat sugarless products if you have a pet or if you do, do not consume them in the house. We all know how curious pets can be, especially when it comes to something sweet, so it is better to remove the temptation from the premises. You need to be especially vigilant with kids--sticks of gum turn up in amazing places and even chewed gum can be tempting for a pup.

This is serious business. It only takes a trace of the stuff to send your pet into organ failure because pets metabolize sugars different than we do. Do me a favor and toss the poison. It's not doing you any good either.

And if, heaven forbid, your pet does consume even a tiny bit of the stuff, get him/her to the vet ASAP. Maybe you'll be as lucky as my friend but don't say you weren't forewarned.

Tuesday, January 20, 2009

"Hope is the Thing with Feathers..."

Quick. What do horse racing and politics have in common other than the terminology (i.e., describing an political race as a horse race and/or a candidate as a dark horse...)?

Give up? The answer, I believe, is that they are both industries that sell hope.

Most thoroughbred breeders will tell you that hope drives what they do. They fiddle with pedigrees and bloodstock to try and arrive at that elusive combination of stamina and speed that will produce the Next Great Horse. And then they market it as the Next Great Opportunity to Own the Next Great Horse.

It's all about hope that first Saturday in May when the birds are singing and the flowers are blooming and the three year olds are running for the roses. Twenty horses, riders, owners and trainers are each hoping for the immortality that comes with winning the premiere prize in their sport. And everyone thinks they can do it.

Hope springs eternal in racing. There is always spring. There is always the Kentucky Derby and there are always foals romping in the blue grass paddocks.

Politicians are selling the same thing. Vote for me and you'll get everything I promised. Vote for me and you'll see that I am better than the person who came before me. Vote for me and I'll bring you what you want--change or more of the same. A vote for me is your best hope for a better tomorrow.

As we all know, very few deliver when confronted with the realities of the system which is why, after too many hollow promises, it all begins to sound the same.

But every once in a while, and sometimes not even in one's lifetime, all the pieces fall into place. All the stars seem aligned and the real deal comes along. I think, on this inauguration day, that we are poised for that Next Great Opportunity. And I think our new president, who dares to have the audacity of hope, is going to deliver.

More than anything, I hope I am right. Because hope is both an incredibly powerful motivator and as Emily Dickinson noted (my title is from her), elusive. If we lose hope, we lose what makes us human and I think we finally have a president that understands what this race is all about.

Monday, January 19, 2009

Veterinary Diagnostic Skills

I am writing a story about the woman who started the National Celiac Awareness Foundation for a local magazine and recently spent an afternoon interviewing her. Her story is quite amazing. 23 doctors could not figure out what was wrong with her--even after she lost a baby and gave birth to one very prematurely--and it was her vet who finally solved the puzzle!

Celiac disease is one in which the person cannot tolerate products made with wheat, rye or barley. At the time when this woman felt the sickest, her doctors actually had her on a high carbohydrate diet, which was the worst possible thing that she could do. She happened to mention it to her vet, who suggested she get tested for a wheat allergy because she had seen many dogs with similar symptoms--diarrhea, cramping, weight loss. Bingo!! A simple blood test confirmed her suspicions.

With celiac disease, food is the cure--the proper type of food that is. You may have noticed a rash of gluten-free products at your local store. Well gluten-free is one of the top ten food trends for 2009 because 1 in every 133 Americans have celiac disease even though 97% of them may not have been diagnosed.

This woman is the driving force behind celiac awareness and has done much to educate the public, the medical community and the food industry about this disease. Through her efforts, the NIH recently changed the classification of celiac disease from "rare" to "common."

She is alive, well and living quite happily on a gluten-free diet and she has her vet to thank! You can get more info on celiac disease at their website.

Sunday, January 18, 2009

Well Read

Good news, courtesy of the National Endowment for the Arts which reports that we are not a nation of illiterates! In fact, according to a recent report, "Reading on the Rise: A New Chapter in American Literacy," we are reading more. Specifically, the proportion of adults 18 and older who said they had read at least one novel, play, short story or poem in the last 12 months has risen for the first time since 1982 when the United States Census Bureau began collecting data on our literary habits.

This is, of course, good news for the struggling publishing industry, which still has to contend with that all important question of what we are reading, and it also takes into account our current trend to read on the Internet.

But the best news is that the proportion of overall literary reading increased virtually across the board, among all ages groups and demographics, and rose most dramatically within the 18-24 age category. Some of this might be attributed to the inclusion of "reading on the web" data but some of this is also due to a steady push by cities, colleges and communities to read a common book.

In Philadelphia, we have the One Book, One City campaign, staged annually (the book this year is The Soloist by Steve Lopez) and my suburban community also sponsors a series of free programs around a common book. This year we are reading People of the Book by Geraldine Brooks.

And for all the talk about electronic reading, I still believe many commuters tote a book in their bags for the ride. It seems like almost everyone on the subway in New York is reading something. Don't discount the power of websites such as Good Reads to influence the trend. It seems as if I am getting updates almost every week from some of my book list buddies.

The study does not distinguish between literary fiction and non-fiction and my guess is that non-fiction does not make the cut, which is a shame. Contrast this with the number of recent movies all based on "true" stories ((Valkyrie, Defiance for starters) as well as those based on novels or short stories (The Curious Case of Benjamin Button, The Reader) and it certainly seems like books remain a source of inspiration for many creative types.

So the book is not dead. It is just probably waiting to be savored.

Saturday, January 17, 2009

Wanted: Puppy Foster Families

When my oldest son was in High School, he had a classmate whose family raised puppies for the Seeing Eye, the world's oldest guide-dog school, located in Morristown, New Jersey. The puppies were adorable but truthfully I could never imagine being able to surrender them after fostering them for about 18 months.

Of course, the flip side is being able to watch the puppies you raised enter their new lives as guide dogs. I can only imagine that it is incredibly fulfilling and of course, there are always new litters of puppies that need fostering.

It turns out that right now, the Seeing Eye is experiencing a bit of a "puppy boom" and is in need of foster families. The puppies become yours at seven weeks and you have to return them between 16 and 18 months. During the time they are in your care, you are instructed to expose them to the kinds of social situations they will encounter when they are working. To that end, guide dogs in training should travel in cars, walk city streets, visit shopping malls if possible and interact with other dogs and people.

Peggy Gibbon, senior manager of puppy placement, reports that many volunteers find the experience so rewarding "they do it again and again."

If your heart is up to the task, you can call 972-539-4425. Ext. 1769 or log onto for more information.

Friday, January 16, 2009

Friends For Life

Here is a heartwarming story (courtesy of CBS news) about an unlikely friendship that just underlines the power of companionship, even among animals.

At the Elephant Sanctuary in Hohenwald, Tennessee, elephants tend to travel in pairs. In fact, it is unusual for an elephant to travel through his days at the Sanctuary, alone.

"Every animal that comes here searches out someone that she then spends most all of her time with," according to sanctuary co-founder Carol Buckley. As evidence, she explains that Debbie has Ronnie. Misty has Dulary.

And then there is the unlikely pair of Tarra, the 8,700 pound Asian elephant and Bella, the stray dog that also found a home at the sanctuary.

"Bella knows she's not an elephant. Tarra knows she's not a dog," Buckley elaborates. "But that's not a problem for them. When it's time to eat they both eat together. They drink together. They sleep together. They play together."

The strength of their bond was made even more apparent recently when Bella suffered a spinal injury and had to be confined to the sanctuary office for three weeks. Tarra, her friend, stood outside the window of the office waiting for her to return.

"She just stood outside the balcony--just stood and waited," says Buckley. "She was concerned about her friend."

One day co-founder Scott Blais carried Bella outside on the balcony so she and Tara could see each other. Bella's tail started wagging, so he carried her down so the two friends could visit. The routine continued every day until Bella was healed and could walk.

According to CBS, their friendship is even stronger now than it was before Bella's injury. Bella even lets Tarra rub her belly with her huge foot.

The two seem destined to live out their days together. It is hard to imagine one surviving long without the other and the touching relationship certainly brings new meaning to the phrase "odd couple".

After all, who are we to say what defines odd?

Thursday, January 15, 2009

Eclipse for First Saturday in May

Last Friday, the Hennagan Brother's documentary, The First Saturday in May, was named the winner of the 2008 Media Eclipse Award in the national television feature category. The documentary aired on HorseRacing TV in October and was the second Eclipse for HRTV.

Many of you might remember seeing this film during the two Celebrations of Barbaro's Life at Delaware Park in 2007 and 2008. Brad and John Hennagan, who were on hand for those viewings, spent 16 months traveling the country filming horses preparing for the 2006 Kentucky Derby. I imagine they have spent just as long doing a wonderful job bringing their efforts to the attention of the larger public.

Included among these horses is Barbaro, the eventual winner, and there are some touching moments of Michael Matz introducing Barbaro to his son.

"We are humbled and honored to win an Eclipse Award and want to thank the entire racetrack community for championing our film from the beginning," Brad Hennagan said. "We would especially like to thank Churchill Downs, the Jockey Club, the NTRA and HRTV for their incredible understanding and support throughout this process."

A portion of the proceeds from the film were donated to the Grayson-Jockey Club.

The Hennagan brothers have championed this film from the get-go and done a bang-up job of promoting it. It is wonderful to know that they are getting their just rewards! Congrats!!

Wednesday, January 14, 2009

Nicanor Nearing His First Start

It is January which means that the race to the Kentucky Derby has officially begun for three year olds. Of course it is still VERY early, but the Barbaro faithful are holding their collective breath to see if Nicanor might be in the running.

According to the rumor mill, the official buzz is that Nicanor is set to make his debut sometime at the end of this month somewhere in Florida, most likely Gulfstream Park. He has been training nicely under Michael Matz at his southern home base, Palm Meadows Training Center, and has logged workouts on both the dirt and the turf.

The Thoroughbred Times reports that Matz seems to be pleased with the colt's progress on both surfaces. "Nicanor does look like he could do well on any surface we want to run on," Matz said. "He's looking like a competitive horse, but he obviously has some big shoes to fill."

Any chance of this debut coming off "under the radar" are close to nil as CBS news has logged a request for any Fans of Barbaro who might be attending the race alert to them to their intentions. If you are going, email Jack at They are contemplating including the race in the CBS news broadcast.

I know the Fans of Barbaro are very excited about Nicanor's first start and can hardly believe that it might indeed occur three years to the day that his big brother passed away. Big shoes to fill indeed and while it is foolhardy to think that lightening could strike twice, it is more important to wish him good racing luck and a safe journey.

In my opinion, Nicanor would have to be some kind of super horse for him to become eligible to compete in the Kentucky Derby, but racing is all about hope, and who am I to dash anyones?

As they say, anything can happen.

Tuesday, January 13, 2009

Thou Shall Not Plagarize

While the web brings writers exposure, this exposure sometimes comes at a cost. Consider what happened to an essay written by one Candy Chand that was published some 10 years ago in a spiritual magazine called Clarity.

The endearing story related to her son's Christmas play in which each child held up a letter to spell out Christmas Love. Apparently the child who held the "M" held it upside down so the message read Christ Was Love.

Needless to say the story was a hit and has been circulating on the web ever since. In addition, it was published in Chicken Soup for the Christian Family Soul with Ms. Chand identified as the author.

Along comes one Neale Donald Walsch, author of the series, Conversations with God, who posts a story about his son's play on a spiritual website. You can guess where this is heading and that is exactly what transpired. Mr. Walsh's son, so it seems, was in the same play with the same upside down "M".

A savvy editor at the website spotted the similarities in stories and contacted Ms. Chaud. She also took down Mr. Walsch's post. By the next day, Mr. Walsch posted an apology on the web site and attributed the story to the rightful author.

Apparently, Mr. Walsch truly believed the story was his. Turns out he had told it many times and included it in numerous speeches. "I'm chagrined and astonished that my mind could play such a trick on me," he told the New York Times.

As for Ms. Chaud, well she's not buying it. "Has the man who writes best-selling books about his 'Conversations with God' also heard God's commandments? 'Thou shall not steal. Thou shall not lie, and thous shalt not covet another author's property,'" she said.

Monday, January 12, 2009

A Pet Tax in Japan

Pro-pet lawmakers in Japan are considering a pet tax to be levied on owners of dogs, cats and other animals in hopes of decreasing the growing number of abandoned pets. Led by Minister of Internal Affairs and Communications, Kunio Hatoyama, the ruling Liberal Democratic Party is said to be considering whether or not such a tax would have the desired result.

Apparently the idea has been recommended to Hatoyama by numerous pet owners who hope that the tax will not only deter some people from becoming pet owners but also help pay some of the costs associated with caring for those that have already been abandoned.

According to the Japanese Bureau of National Affairs, municipal governments across Japan had accepted or captured some 374,000 pets by the end of March 2007. Most of these predominantly dogs and cats were euthanized, sparking widespread criticism from animal welfare advocates.

And while the government has stated it hopes to limit the number of pets municipalities will accept to about 210,000 by 2017, the problem seems to be what to do with the ones that are already in existence. It seems Japan is facing the same budget constraints we are when it comes to paying the costs associated with keeping the animals in shelters until new owners can be found.

It is certainly an interesting idea and it will be even more interesting to see whether or not it is adopted and then enforced. It seems to me that this tax is the equivalent of a license fee, which most municipalities do not enforce. In addition, it very well may be that the cost of hiring a pet-tax enforcement officer would obliterate any revenue the tax might produce unless of course it is so exorbitantly high that it would do nothing to eliminate the problem of stray and abandoned pets that currently exist.

A better option might be to waive the tax for those who are willing to adopt a shelter pet and lower it each year that the owner keeps his/her pet.

Sunday, January 11, 2009

Reality Hits and Bites

So we're almost two weeks into the new year and I think it's safe to say, the bloom is already off the rose. That is, if there ever was one. The doom and gloom scenario with which 2008 ended is playing out in a big way as 2009 begins to unfold and I must confess, it is disheartening to even a die-hard optimist (me).

First we have the dismal report from Equibase on wagering in the United States last year, down 7.2%, to the lowest overall total in a decade. No surprise there but coupled with the equally dismal sales figures for recent sales, lowering of stud fees and lay-offs of almost all the working press writers on major newspapers in the U. S., and I can't help but think the handwriting may be on the wall for a sport that can no longer support its own.

Yes, slots can save many a track and yes, more are slated for voter approval in 2009, but make no mistake, I truly believe the glory days of racing are long gone. Few can afford it (which may return it to the sport of kings mentality) and fewer still may be able to justify the expense.

Which brings to mind the question of what will become of all those horses and all those beautiful horse farms and I can't help but think that on some level it could be a marriage made in heaven. Of course, it all comes down to money and that seems to be in short supply these days.

Some will say that this environment is perfect for opportunity, but the trick is finding the opportunity that resonates with the current national mindset and then hoping your timing is right. I worry about the people who have made their livelihood in the industry and hope that they have some cushion that affords them the ability to continue doing what they love.

And just in case anyone in the horse industry is paying attention--perhaps the answer is to start thinking about ways to bring back those glory days--and that has to do with the appeal of the horse.

Saturday, January 10, 2009

Publishing Faces the Music

An article in Monday's New York Times discusses the downturn in the industry especially with regard to the perks long associated with the "glamour" of the trade--those legendary three martini lunches, limo rides and high-end dinner deals. Gone are those lush convention junkets, car services and private jets to woo authors. Publishing, like the rest of the world is going to have to learn to tighten its belt.

"This business was never meant to sustain limousines," said Amanda Urban, a literary agent. But oh how it did!!

What this means, of course, is smaller advances for authors and deals with book stores to limit their returns on unsold books. At HarperCollins, they are experimenting with a new model that eliminates advances for authors and substitutes profit sharing on books sold.

It also means fewer books will be published, notably less of the high-cost, all photograph variety. Check the bargain bins at your local bookstores. Chances are they are chock full of those lush photographic essays that are going to become all but obsolete, unless you are Ansel Adams.

I think what this may mean is an opportunity for those of us still trying to break in. Publishers have a built in excuse (the economy) for paying next to nothing to newcomers and may be willing to gamble a bit more with less money. Which of course brings up the question of how low is one willing to go?

I think it is one worth pondering as agents dig deep through their offerings to make a sale. We all may need to be good and hungry....

Friday, January 9, 2009

Innovative Publisher Shuts Down

One of the first shakeouts in this new, lean world of magazine publishing has emerged and ironically it is one that was supposed to herald the dawn of a new approach to magazine publishing.

According to the Wall Street Journal, 8020 Media, the publisher of a pair of titles using an integrative approach, has gone belly-up. The San Francisco based company published JPG, a photography magazine and Everywhere, a travel magazine, that both relied on the input of its readers to determine the content of the magazines. Voters helped determine which stories and photographs made the cut by registering their choices on the magazines' website.

It was smart. It was new. It was popular and engaging and it was cheap. Contributors even received a small fee for their work. So why did it fail?

Advertising, or rather lack thereof. Mitchell Fox, chief executive of 8020 Media, said that the company's experiments proved his mission, that "mass collaboration and participation" can indeed be the foundation of a new type of media but that advertising revenues for all types of media were down.

It is a shame especially since I am all about rooting for any type of new media that breaks the mold and stretches the boundaries of publishing. Let's hope that someone else picks up the ball and runs with it.

Thursday, January 8, 2009

Service Animals

An interesting article in Sunday's New York Times Magazine examines the changing world of service animals and what exactly qualifies as a service vs. therapy animal. Apparently the world of service animals has expanded dramatically from canines. The article details the work of a miniature horse as well as a parrot and monkey.

The questions arises with regard to the incorporation of these more exotic service animals into society. Should a service monkey be allowed to accompany his owner into a restaurant? Should a service pony be permitted to wander the aisles of a supermarket? And who draws the line?

If you speak to the people who rely on these more "exotic" service animals, they believe they should be allowed to take them anywhere a seeing eye dog is permitted to go--which is everywhere. The issue becomes more complicated because under the provisions of the Americans with Disability Act, there are very few questions that an employer can ask about either the medical histories of the people using the service animals or the exact tasks these animals perform.

There is very little surveillance of what qualifies as a service animal. Les Frieden, currently a professor of healthy information science at the University of Texas Health Science Center in Houston and a former director of the National Council on Disability, notes: "People shouldn't be able to carry their pets on a plane or into a restaurant claiming they're service animals when they're not. . . It's fraud and it results in increased scrutiny of people with legitimate disabilities."

In June, according to author Rebecca Skloot, the Department of Justice proposed new regulations that excludes psychiatric service animals and those used for "comfort" rather than actual service. Wording from the Department of Justice limits these animals to canines and "other common domestic animals", specifically excluding "wild animals" and "any breed of horse." Needless to say, those who use these animals for service, psychiatric and otherwise, are not pleased.

It is a curious situation and one that demonstrates the continual blurring of the line between humans and animals. We have a curious relationship with animals, depending on and being dependent on them at the same time and the expansion of the variety of animals on which we are dependent just continues to stretch the limits of this relationship.

Stay tuned because I don't think that this issue is anywhere near from being solved. And with animal law becoming more mainstream, I predict we will see lawsuits that challenge these definitions of service and comfort.

Wednesday, January 7, 2009

Sheep Mentality

Last Saturday, the Wall Street Journal ran two excellent articles, ironically back to back, about the power of the people. The first, written by Professor Stephen Greenspan, was about the psychological components of gullibility--specifically with regard to the investment shenanigans of Bernie Madoff. The second was an excellent analysis of the publishing industry's reliance on blockbusters. In both, the role of the crowd mentality in shaping decisions is paramount and can lead to both success and failure.

We humans are an extremely social lot and it turns out that relying on the advice of friends to suggest which book to read is one thing. But when it comes to following their advice when it comes to where to park your money, friends shouldn't let friends join their investment clubs.

Greenspan was himself a victim of Madoff's Multi-billion dollar Ponzi scheme, heeding the advice and example of his sister who had invested in a hedge fund that Madoff managed. As he writes, he was swayed by his sister, their friends and the man who sold him on the investment, even though another friend at home in Colorado warned him against the investment. "The decision to invest reflected both my profound ignorance of finance, and my somewhat lazy unwillingness to remedy that ignorance," he writes. He wanted to believe that his gut instincts were right and he was excited about the prospect of parking his money in a "sure" thing.

It seems that publishers like sure things as well. Hence their recent and continuing trend to publish "copy cat" novels--books that mimic other blockbusters, regardless of their "artistic" merit. Hence the recent Dewey the cat book, a feline version of Marley & Me, that has occupied the best seller list for quite some time. Yes the writer was an unknown but let it be known she was in the right place at the right time with a variation of the right formula. "Blockbuster strategies are certainly not free of risk, but, in the long run, they beat the alternative of more balanced investment strategies," writes Anita Elberse. "That explains why, even when the book industry struggles with the effects of the economic downturn, publishing houses won't steer away from big bets."

Ironically, both investment strategies--going with the sure thing and betting on blockbusters--depend on the human penchant for sheep mentality--that is doing (and reading) what everybody else is. "Because they are inherently social, people find value in reading the same books and watching the same movies that others do," notes Elberse.

So maybe the moral of the story is to steer away from the promise of a sure thing when it comes to investing your money, especially if everyone around you is NOT, and choose from the bestseller list if you only have room in your suitcase for one book.

Or better yet, go with your gut (are you listening publishers of America?) especially when it says to stray from the tried and true.

Tuesday, January 6, 2009

The Dancer

I just finished reading Native Dancer by John Eisenberg, the writer who co-authored Edgar Prado's book on Barbaro. I read it as part of my research on other thoroughbreds who have become popular heroes and I highly recommend it.

Eisenberg clearly did his homework, researching not only the horse but his owner, Alfred Vanderbilt, jockey and trainer. It is a tribute to the glory days of racing--the era when television first began to telecast horse racing and it was not unusual for 30,000 people to go to Belmont to watch a big race.

Native Dancer was by all accounts a Superstar. He graced the cover of Time magazine and the only race he ever lost in his entire career was the Kentucky Derby, by a head to a long shot in a fluke. He won just about every other big name race there ever was: the Preakness, Belmont, Travers, Whitney, Jockey Club Gold Cup, you name it. He had a nerve wracking habit of coming from behind--often at the very last second, and of making up the distance with an amazing stride. Thrilling. Exciting. And goose bump producing.

But perhaps the most memorable thing about Native Dancer was his color: grey. There had never been a Superstar grey thoroughbred before him and there were actually superstitions about grey horses. But his unique coloring actually added to his appeal. You could always find him on the black and white television screens across America.

But there was more: "No one has ever quite documented how or why the legend of a champion grows," Eisenberg quotes Time magazine. "The present has its press agents as the past had its poets. . . But a legend's feats endure because of what he adds: an undying spirit of competition, an ability to inspire awe, a willingness to gamble on losing, the guts to lose and rise again--flair, class, style or what Hemingway once termed 'grace under pressure'--it is the quality that breeds sport legend."

Native Dancer had it. So did Barbaro.

The fascinating appeal of the thoroughbred is not dead. It is just in need of another Superstar. Soon.

Monday, January 5, 2009

Light at the End of the tunnel?

Alan Rinzler, a well respected literary agent, has an interesting post on his blog that may indeed renew some of my hope in the long term health of the publishing industry. One by one, he goes through all the recent downsizing, turmoils, etc. and comes to the same conclusion: Agents cannot stop soliciting or selling manuscripts and publishers cannot stop buying them. As he puts it: "Traditional book acquisition is alive and well."

For evidence he gives two examples from his own recent past, both auctions in which he lost out on representing the writers because he underbid. And one of them was an "unknown." Interestingly enough, they both were non-fiction books of the self-help variety on topics that seem to be written about before.

So go figure.

If you think about it, of course, it all makes sense. Agents depend on sales to make their livings. They also depend on residuals from previous clients who have struck it rich. If they ever get to the point where they don't need to find fresh talent, they probably should get out of the business. It's all about the next best thing and who is going to bring it to the table.

I guess if I were an agent, I would be scouring my slush pile, reviewing my active proposals and helping my current clients refine their work. I would be pounding pretty hard on a lot of doors and ideally sending encouraging notes to my authors who are waiting for a sale.

Of course, I'm not and my agent is not doing a lot of hand holding now or ever for that matter. But it sure would be nice to get a response from an email or a returned phone call. Or better yet, some advice as to what to do to make the proposals in his hands more saleable.

There may be light at the end of the tunnel but in my case, I may need to find a new route.

Sunday, January 4, 2009

The News Hits Home, Hard

In the category of "the news hitting home," comes the tale of NPR reporter Ketzel Levine, whose own situation became the final installment in her series about how Americans are coping with financial reversals. As part of "American Moxie: How We Get By," Levine broadcast multiple stories about how Americans handle economic pressure.

"My idea was to look at how we adjust, how we change, and what we have to dig deep and find in order to do what it takes to get by," she told the New York Times. The twist was that the stories were always connected. If a farmer sold some cows, Levine's next piece might be about the person who bought the cows. "We came up with the idea that each person should be connected with the next somehow, and that was the best part for me," says Levine. "I'd go on a story and have absolutely no idea what the next story would be--I'd have to find it while I was there."

When it came to the last installment in the series, she didn't have to look far. It turns out that Levine, a senior reporter for NPR, was part of the recent downsizing at the public radio network.

There was some hesitation about reporting on her own situation but in the end, Ellen McDonnell, director of morning programming, relented. "She found out in a very personal way what it's like to have to start over again and to have that moxie she spoke about," she noted.

As for that moxie, well it took Levine some time to reveal her situation to her listeners. "It's only today that I'm sane enough to tell you," she reported in her short piece that ran about ten days ago.

Levine has no idea what she will do next, but, ever the professional, did recognize the incredible irony of her situation. "Every story that we all do, we're always looking for the perfect ending," she said. "And suddenly it was handed to me. It was not one of my choosing, but as a story teller, what could make a better story?"

Saturday, January 3, 2009

Another Memoir Bites the Dust

The publishing world is rocked with the news of yet another falsified memoir--this time a fabricated tale about the Holocaust which fooled almost everyone from agent to editor to would-be publisher to Oprah. Angel at the Fence by Holocaust survivor Herman Rosenblat, slated to be published by Berkley Books, a division of Penguin, was discovered to be "embellished" and Penguin has canceled its publication.

Herman Rosenblat's story was almost too good to be true. He said he first met his wife, Roma Radzicki Rosenblat, while he was a prisoner in a Nazi concentration camp. According to Herman, Roma saved his life by throwing apples over the fence.

It was several scholars who discovered the holes in Herman's tale. The lead sleuth is one Kenneth Waltzer, director of Jewish Studies at Michigan State University, who determined that the section of the concentration camp where Herman was kept had fences facing other parts of the camp. The only section with a fence that faced "the outside world" faced the SS barracks. There simply was no way that Roma would have been able to throw apples to Herman in plain sight of the SS. Moreover, according to the New York Times, "the fence was electrified and civilians outside the camp were forbidden to walk along the road that bordered the fence."

When confronted with the holes in his story, Herman confessed that Roma never threw him apples. Indeed, Roma, her parents, and two sisters were hidden as Christians at a farm over 200 miles away from where Herman was imprisoned.

This story has apparently been around for some time and versions of it have appeared in a volume of the Chicken Soup for the Soul series as well as in a children's book, Angel Girl by Laurie Friedman. Herman probably told the tale so many times, he believed it himself.

At this point, Penguin has demanded that Herman return his advance and his agent is investigating her legal options. "I believed the teller," agent Andrea Hurst told the New York Times. "He was in so many magazines and books and on Oprah. It did not seem like it would not be true."

There is good reason that Holocaust scholars are on guard against any fabrication of survivor stories because holes in credibility can lead to an undermining of the existence of the genocide. And we should be grateful that the memoir was not published. But the situation also underlines the further difficulties first time authors are gong to face with regard to credibility.

It is a fine story and one that Rosenbalt could clearly have published as a short story. It is a shame that Rosenbalt, whose intention was only to tell his story, felt compelled to embellish the details.

Friday, January 2, 2009

The List

I do not know what inspired me to draw up a list of every dog that has ever been part of my life, but I did. I think I was about 48 years old and there were 35 dogs on the list. If you do the math, that's close to one dog a year from the age of ten on, and that certainly has not been the case. What that means is a theme that runs deep through my youth: excess. Quite simply, we Levys had to have the biggest, the best, and the most of everything, including dogs.

I think things started innocently enough with one boxer, bought by my father the day we moved into the stone farm house in which I spent ages 2-21, and whom, according to family lore I named "Puppy" when he drove into the driveway with the squirming pup. He had grown up with a boxer and when Puppy ate the fringe off my mother's new hall carpeting, she retaliated with a representative of the breed with whom she had shared her childhood: a collie, Handy.

Puppy and Handy were joined in rapid succession by a dog for me (of course), a Norwich Terrier named Buttons who proceeded to have a litter of pups so we could share her bounty with our friends. Buttons begat Mittens among others, who ended up with some of my parents friends. For some reason she is the only pup I remember.

And then it all just snowballed: dogs arrived home with my father when he went on business trips (a Scottish terrier named Poochie). We procured them from pet shops on family trips (a pekingese named Snoopy). We found some (a Schnauzer we named Sylvia who was eventually reunited with her rightful owner) and found homes for others (a Keesehund named Fluffy who was just too high strung to live on a mere two acres).

Dogs were just a part of our existence--usually in multiples of four and there was always room for one more especially when it was ours who were doing the multiplying.

Thursday, January 1, 2009

A New Year

I've seen two fabulous movies this past week and while not all will fall for Marley and Me, (there has been a bit of backlash from the American Veterinary society about the "bad" dog concept; you know the drill: there are no bad dogs only bad owners), I do think that most viewers will enjoy The Curious Case of Benjamin Button.

Anyway, both movies inspired me in different ways. Marley & Me operates from the premise that certain dogs are "special" by virtue of their characteristics--in Marley's case, his over exuberance--and that Marley was a once in a lifetime kind of dog that came along at precisely the right moment in a young family's life. I'm not sure that there are once-in-a-lifetime dogs--only that dogs come into your life at different times with different lessons and all are in their own ways, "special." Nonetheless, it is a great exploration of the human-animal bond and I guarantee you will need a tissue or two.

The Curious Case of Benjamin Button explores the themes of aging within the context of Benjamin Button who grows younger instead of older. It is a fascinating idea and one that plays out on a lot of levels. Two people that are moving in opposite directions meet in the middle for a brief shining moment and then one ends up taking care of the other at different stages of their lives. Of course there is also the concept that as we age, we really return to our "diaper" stage and the notion that most of us do indeed come full circle.

Both movies have inspired me to think a lot about my past, my present and my future so don't be surprised if you occasionally read a post about my youth (spent with many dogs, of course) as sort of a working journal for a project that may one day turn into something else.

I have a lot on my plate as we start the new year--my thesis, some really interesting assignments in progress for existing clients, a commissioned history for which a draft has to be cranked out by the end of January, and who knows what else.

So I hope you forgive me if I occasionally I use this blog as a journal to capture and freeze concepts that weave in and out of my brain. Chances are that if you don"t like one days entry, you might like the next.

Either way, I'd love to hear from you.