Tuesday, June 30, 2009

Technical Difficulties

For those of you who are actually looking for my daily blog (thank you!! I know there are some of you out there because I have heard from a few...), please be aware that I have not fallen off the face of the earth, but that apparently the automatic posting option on my blog server has gone awry. Which means that I have to manually post my blogs daily. Which means that they will NOT (and this I can assure you) be posted at 7:00 AM until the mechanism is fixed.

Now that I have posted this, I am hoping the option is automatically restored (the old carry your umbrella and it won't rain trick), but who knows.

So hang in there. Apparently they know about it and now that it is a weekday, they should be working to resolve it.

In the meantime, thanks for your patience and continued support.

Monday, June 29, 2009

The Wauchula Woods Accord

Way back when (although I can't seem to find it among my archives, which makes me wonder about the intricacies of my labeling system...) I wrote about New York Times writer Charles Siebert's new book about retirement homes for chimpanzees. The book is out and it is called The Wauchula Woods Accord and from the tiny bit I have read (downloaded on my Kindle of course!), I highly recommend it.

The author investigates what happens to former primate movie stars as well as those used for research. As you will see, there are many different types of retirement "communities" for these animals and some fare better than others. What is interesting is that the author develops a personal relationship with one retired chimp, Roger, with whom he spends many hours bonding in unique ways, most of which require intense introspection on his part.

Lisa Brown, over on www.animalinventory.com, has posted a wonderful interview with the author as well as a thoughtful and thought-provoking review. Check it out before you commit to the purchase. She also touches on one of his previous books, Angus, written entirely from the dog's point of view.

I am looking forward to a long 4th of July holiday (hopefully with some SUN!!!) for some poolside summer reading. This one tops my list at the moment.

Sunday, June 28, 2009


I am deep into a huge project at the moment that is taking up a lot of my brain power.

It is an article I am writing for Penn that I should have written months ago, but the thesis got in the way. It is about Scott Mackler, M. D,. Ph. D., who was diagnosed with ALS ten years ago. A brilliant physician and researcher, whose specialty is addiction, Scott is now completely "locked in," unable to talk, move or breathe without a respirator. Yet, with with the help of a machine called BCI 2000, he is able to continue his work as a researcher by using his brain waves to select letters, one by one that he types into emails and thus communicates with friends, colleagues, family, and the world.

It is humbling to be in his presence and also inspiring. But more than anything it is a story about the power of communication, the need to be useful and the power of love. Without all three of them, I don't believe Scott would be here today.

All of which is a nice way of saying, bear with me for a few days if you find yourself staring at photos of my pups or videos lifted from youtube. My brain is on overdrive!

Saturday, June 27, 2009

SWAT, the Obama Edition

Ninja fly killer, to be praised or scorned? You tell me, but guess which label PETA has attached to the impressive actions of our commander in chief? Not to mention that they've raised a fuss about his inhumane treatment of the fly and sent him a kinder, gentler fly catching device that traps the fly (hopefully) so you can release it to the great outdoors.

Apparently PETA has forgotten about the potential diseases that a fly carries with it or the fact that its presence around food is most unsanitary. I personally think they may have gone a bit too far in this rant. And while I am all for live and let live, I think one has to draw the line with insects.

Case in point, the ants that are marching in voracious colonies around the entire perimeter of our house. I tried to let everyone coexist for the longest time until the infestation managed to find its way over the transom. That was it. Exterminator summoned and war officially declared.

Stay tuned. He told me I won the prize for the worst ant problem he had seen, which of course required the big guns.

Moral of the story. I don't like to think of myself as a commander in chief but battle lines have to be drawn. I think doorposts are fair and I think the ones of the White House are especially generous.

Back off PETA. This is what gets you into trouble in the first place.

Friday, June 26, 2009

Qualifying the Results

A recent article in The Horse.com notes one of the problems with current drug testing conducted at race tracks. The tests are so sensitive that they often detect levels of drugs that are present in the race trace environment, not necessarily in the horses being tested.

Case in point. Dr. Steven A. Barker, a distinguished professor of veterinary medicine at Louisiana State University's School of Veterinary Medicine, collected samples at four Louisiana tracks from soil in stalls, on stall surfaces, barn dust and lagoon waters on the backstretches. Using standard testing procedure, researchers examined these samples for such drugs as amphetamines, barbiturates and non steroidal anti-inflammatory agents. According to Barker, "Non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs, including phenylbutazone, flunisin and naproxen were identified in all of the the tested samples with the highest concentrations found in the samples collected from the stall floors."

Which leads one to believe that every horse is being treated with these chemical agents or that the humans caring for them are unknowingly jeopardizing their horses' test results. Consider that the second most common contaminant in stall soil was caffeine and you get the picture. Trace amounts of coffee either spilled or dribbled from coffee cups is most likely the culprit in this case.

Barker is not ruling out the possibility that drug use is as wide-spread as his soil test results indicate, but he is also not ready to rule out environmental factors. "While we have yet to examine the degree to which environmental contamination contributes to positive test results in racehorses, it is certainly possible that environmental contamination is occurring," he notes. The fact that one type of contamination is indistinguishable from the other just complicates the findings.

Clearly the sensitivity of the drug tests is critical to being able to detect the presence of multiple types of chemical substances, but until a test can be developed that empirically ties the presence of drugs to the specific horse, not its environment, there will always be "wiggle room" to dispute the findings.

And that, of course, takes money, something which the hard-hit horse industry seems to be lacking these days.

Thursday, June 25, 2009

Let Them Eat Cake!

Henley the rescued sheepdog paid an end of the year visit to Good Intent Elementary School in Deptford, New Jersey recently to personally thank the students there for raising awareness and funds for their local animal shelter. Henley knows first hand about the need for such kindness, having been rescued himself by his "mom" Judith Kristen, who turned Henley's journey into a book, My Name is Henley: My Life and Times as a Rescued Dog. In addition, Henley is the poster dog for an animal awareness campaign for students entitled An Old Dog Learns New Tricks.

Henley has also racked up a bunch of awards including the Lions Club Citizen of the Year. Not bad for a shaggy dog with cataracts and arthritis that necessitates that he wear "orthopedic" shoes.

The highlight of the visit was of course his shagginess himself but also a cake baked by none other than Duff Goldman, television's Ace of Cakes, that resembled a donation box stuffed with doggie goodies surrounded by a bone, collar and dog toy. Yes, the entire thing was edible, much to the delight of the entire student body.

Henley was rescued by Kristen in 1998 after he was chained and left for dead in a mud pit at a Lancaster puppy mill. "When I first got Henley, I said, 'Come over here to your new mom,'" Kristen said. "He wagged his butt so hard--most sheepdogs don't have tails--that he knocked himself right over. He was just a good dog from the get-go."

To see a photos of Henley's visit, including the amazing cake, click here. As for learning the life lessons of kindness, forgiveness, benevolence and unconditional love, go rescue your own Henley.

Wednesday, June 24, 2009

Shoeby, Dooby, Do

"Now where did I put that shoe?" is the question that many of the people in Fohren, a small town in western Germany, have been asking themselves over the course of a year. According to Spiegel online, well over 100 shoes have disappeared from front porches all over the picturesque town, usually in the middle of the night.

The mystery appears to have been solved thanks to the detective work of a forestry worker who discovered the culprit: a mother fox who has amassed a collection of footwear that even Imelda Marcos would covet. The thinking is that she gathered them as toys for her brood of youngsters since many of them bear little teeth marks, or she simply has a case of shoe kleptomania!

According to Rudolpf Reichsgraf von Kesselstatt, the local count, "We found 86 pairs of shoes in the den and a further 32 in a nearby quarry where they like to play. That includes 12 or 13 matching pairs of shoes." The good count laid out the rescued shoes at the palace so that the owners can claim them.

So far, the townspeople seem to be content to let their thief remain at large since she has yet to be caught in the act. They are simply advised to take in their shoes at night.

"She's probably got more shoes in the den, we didn't want to venture in any further because she's still living there and we don't want to kill her, especially given that she's got cubs," explained von Kesselstatt.

You know what they say. If the shoe fits......

Tuesday, June 23, 2009

One Dog Per Family in China

Beginning July 1, the city of Guangzhou in southern China will have a new policy with regard to raising dogs: one dog per family. Like the one child law, there is no negotiating the terms. Those families that currently have more than one dog are going to have to find homes for their extra pooches come the first of next month and many are not too thrilled with the decree.

"It's a cruel regulation. These dogs are like family. How can you keep one and get rid of the others," a Chinese woman who declined to use her real name told the Associated Press.

Many speculate that the origin of the new law is the tendency for stray dogs to roam the streets, especially in Guangzhou, formerly known as Canton. This city is one of the richest in China and the growing middle class is fond of raising dogs. Many do not bother to have their pets spayed or neutered and the result is a growing population of stray dogs. Guangzhou is host to the Asian Games next year and less dogs also means cleaner sidewalks.

This policy is already in effect in other cities in China including Beijing and is said to help control rabies outbreaks that also are common in China. Meanwhile for those who already have two dogs, the thought of doing away with one is often too much to bear.

The anonymous Chinese woman has already thought of one loophole: to register one of her dogs with her parents. "In China we have a saying. When the people at the top male a policy, the people at the bottom find a way to get around it," she said.

Monday, June 22, 2009

Take 5 Needles and Call Me in the Morning

The other day I drove by one of those franchise-type veterinary practices in my area, you know the one with names like America's Pet and Animals First (I don't think they are actual franchises; they just feel like they are) and noticed a sign outside that read, "Now Offering Acupuncture." Wow. Alternative medicine has invaded Main Street.

I have long been a believer in acupuncture having seen the results in my late golden/lab mix, Lucy. Weekly and then monthly acupuncture treatments prolonged her life for two years. No joke. She was still crotchety and creaky but she was mobile and everything including her coat and her skin, improved with regular treatments to minimize her arthritis. And since there is no placebo effect in animals, I truly did attribute it to the wonders of acupuncture.

I have since had acupuncture in my feet and felt the difference it can make. A recent article in the Inquirer highlights the path that alternative medicine for pets has taken and how it now travels on Main Street. When I started those acupuncture treatments for Lucy almost ten years ago, my vet was one of the few who was certified in the specialty. In fact, according to the article, "the American Veterinary Association says it is 'open' to the consideration of alternative treatments."

Nowhere is this more beneficial, in my opinion, than in conjunction with chemotherapy. In fact, Penn now offers acupuncture in conjunction with chemo, which is something I wish they did when Bentley was being treated there. And how about this for acceptance? Pet insurance even covers some treatments, although I have found that acupuncture is probably one of the cheapest services that vets offer!

The moral of the story: Don't fore go traditional medicine especially in emergency situations. As Dr. Andrew Weil is fond of saying, "If I am in a car accident, take me to the nearest trauma center." But for chronic conditions, don't be afraid to consider the alternatives.

Sunday, June 21, 2009

Be Careful What You Wish For

My parents have a farm in Maryland with a stream running through the property. One summer, a group of enterprising beavers built a dam in the stream and caused complete chaos on the property. The steam overflowed, all of the plantings washed away, the drains became clogged with debris...you get the picture. One thing led to another to another to another. The solution? Get rid of the beavers.

Getting rid of the dam didn't do it. They just kept repairing and reconstructing their tour de force. Ultimately, the beavers were removed under humane circumstances but far, far away to clog up someone else's stream. But as they say, what goes around, comes around, literally.

Apparently the people of Concord, Mass. have a similar problem, only this is one that conservation has actually created. Years of protecting beavers has resulted in their plentiful existence in the town and everything, yes everything including property, septic tanks, drains and sewers in the town is flooding due to the handiwork of these enterprising rodents.

"We have a huge problem," David Pavlik an engineer for the nearby town of Lexington, where floods have reeked havoc on the town's sanitation system. "We trapped them. We breached their dam. Nothing works."

Beavers, it turns out, are some of the best engineers in the ecosystem and when some are trapped, others move in to replace them. It all usually happens within 24 hours. According to the Department of Agriculture, beavers are responsible for tens of millions of dollars worth of damage in states like Mississippi, North Carolina and Wisconsin.

The answer, it seems, is to find a way for humans and beavers to co-exist which usually requires chicken wire, to keep them out of certain areas, and patience. There are also water flow devices that lower the water level in beaver ponds. People have been known to cover their trees with paint and sand to discourage the beavers from gnawing on them. Even trapping and removing the beavers has mixed success because unclogging a dam upstream can cause flooding downstream.

Beavers are the largest rodents in North America and can reach 60 pounds! They are monogamous animals that mate for life and their goal is to build a dam and create a pond. They like to eat the plants that grow underwater.

Although it is hard to believe, beavers do have beneficial effects on the environment, one of which is to leave behind rich soil when they eventually move on to another location.

In the meantime, it seems that patience and tolerance are the necessary requirements for co-existence. Eventually, beavers do relocate when the ponds they create are no longer bountiful. Trying to move them any sooner, just does not work.

Dare I say it? Leave it to beavers.....

Saturday, June 20, 2009

Malnourished Sea Lions Are Becoming the Norm

There has been a mysterious increase in malnourished marine mammals in northern California according to information from the area's Marine Mammal Center. "We're way ahead in the numbers this year. We have twice as many animals as we should," said marine veterinarian Bill Van Bonn.

Some officials believe the increase in undernourished sea lions may be due to a decline in the populations of the smaller fish that sea lions eat. The Center, which has treated marine mammals for 35 years, just recently opened a new $32 million facility to keep up with the demand. On average, the Center treats about 600 rescued animals each year. Last year, however, they treated 800 and in recent weeks, staff have rescued 10 more sea lions a day than usual.

The new facility is equipped with state-of-the-art labs for analyzing tissue and blood samples and surgeons are on-staff. Usual patients include elephant seals, harbor seals and California sea lions. And while only about half of them survive, all of them contribute to the Center's massive tissue bank to aid scientific research.

The new Center is "green" with a nautical twist. The ceiling tiles are made of seaweed. Solar panels are used to shield the pens as well as to provide about 10% of the Center's power.

Global warming has increased the ocean's acidity and may have contributed to the loss of food for sea lions. This is one of the puzzles that scientists hope to solve as they nurse the weak sea lions back to health.

Friday, June 19, 2009

Nicky's Second Turf Victory

Way to go Nicky!!! In his second outing on the turf, Nicanor blew away the field in a mile and an eighth allowance race on the turf at Delaware Park on Wednesday, going wire to wire. It was an exciting outing to say the least.

Nicanor went off as the favorite and paid $2.80 and covered the distance in 1 minute 52.95 seconds. White Holiday placed; Stevil was third. And as usual, a strong contingent of Fans of Barbaro were in attendance and cheered him on.

When I last spoke to Gretchen Jackson, she mentioned that Michael Matz thinks very highly of Nicky and after yesterday's performance we can all see why. He may be pointed to the Virginia Derby at Colonial Downs but no definitive word. "We are not exactly sure where we may run him next," Matz said. "We want to take our time and see how he comes out of this race. But we were very pleased with his race today."

Wherever Nicky races, I am sure he will have many admirers. Dare we say we predict a bright turf career to truly establish him as his own "person?"

Thursday, June 18, 2009

Mine That Bird's Future Plans

Now we know. Mine That Bird's next race will be the West Virginia Derby on August 1 at Mountaineer Racetrack. The race is a Grade II mile and a eighth test and the purse is $750,000.

After that, the plan is to head for Saratoga and the Travers. "The West Virginia Derby fits our schedule the best and that's the main thing," trainer Chip Woolley told the New York Times. "From there we will go to the Travers, with the ultimate goal being the Breeder's Cup Classic."

Conventional wisdom holds that the West Virginia Derby will be an easier contest for the Kentucky Derby winner. Rachel Alexandra is expected to, once again, take on the boys on August 2 in the Haskell at Monmouth Park.

As for the Breeder's Cup, Woolley is not sure how he will train Mine That Bird for the prestigious mile and a quarter contest to be run November 7 on the synthetic ProRide at Santa Anita. He is not worried about how the colt adapts to the surface since he has had experience running on synthetic surfaces. In fact, Mine That Bird won four in a row on Woodbine's synthetic surface last year.

So for now, it is one day at a time. Mine that Bird will remain at Churchill Downs, site of his greatest win, to train for the West Virginia Derby. Who knows? By then, Woolley may get his cast off!

Wednesday, June 17, 2009

Moose Tracks

We go to Maine every summer and every summer, I hope that I will see a moose. So far, no luck. Silly me, I should simply go to Saratoga to watch the early morning workouts. That's where this cow moose was spotted on Monday morning by employees who had arrived for work.

The moose was actually spotted wandering down town along Nelson Avenue. It meandered over to Frank Sullivan Place outside of the race track gates. City police requested that the track gates be open so that the moose could be safely corralled inside. The moose wandered around the track until workers from the Department of Environmental Conservation could arrive and tranquilize the moose.

All went well and the moose was returned to its natural environment, unharmed. Wonder if he wanted to work out, place a bet or just check out the turf course? According to Bloodhorse.com, this is the first time that anyone who works at the track ever remembers seeing a moose on the grounds.

Tuesday, June 16, 2009

Snow Leopard Exhibit in New York

Readers of this blog know that I have a curious relationship with zoos--I enjoy seeing the animals but don't appreciate the fact that they are in captivity. The concept of preservation which many zoos seem to be "pushing" to combat the animals behind bars image goes only so far with me. Yes, you are preserving and protecting animal that may or may not have become extinct in the wild, but you are doing it with cages.

In any event, the new exhibit of snow leopards that recently opened at the Central Park Zoo apparently seems to have created an impressive middling ground. According to the New York Times, the exhibit, created under the auspices of the Wildlife Conservation Society that runs the zoo, is worth visiting.

For one, the "cage bars" are barely visible. "Two pavilions, with spare panels of text, look out onto two hills, while a barely visible steel wire mesh covers these habitats like protective tents," gushes the Times. One habitat is lush while the other is a rocky landscape with a waterfall. A mist machine creates clouds, through which the snow leopards materialize.

Snow leopards are difficult to see in the wild--they blend in incredibly well with their surroundings. So for that alone, the exhibit is a treat--it is rare to spot one of these magnificent creatures "au naturel." But the true "raison d'etre" for the exhibit is to help save the breed. According to the Times, fewer than 8,000 snow leopards exist in the wild. During the last thirty years, the Wildlife Conservancy has bred more than 80 cubs and sent them to new homes at zoos around the world. Many think that this effort may indeed keep the snow leopard from extinction.

The overall effect, according to the Times, is still one of forced confinement in a natural stage setting. Yet, there is a part of us that likes to believe the snow leopards are better off here, safe and sound, protected from avalanches, natural disasters and predators.

Are the animals truly "happier" in captivity? Who knows. But the humans most certainly are.

Monday, June 15, 2009

Sulky Racing in My Own Backyard

In the category of "who new?" comes news from our very local newspaper (sorry no link--it is very local!) that the Philadelphia suburbs were once home to a sulky race track known as Belmont Driving Park. Built during the Centennial Exposition in 1878 (held in Philadelphia), the park was located in the Philadelphia suburbs in what is now known as Merion.

The Club included two tracks, one inside the other. The outer one was a one mile oval; the inner one was half a mile. Membership reached 300 at the height of the Club's popularity! There was also an elaborate Clubhouse, featuring a covered veranda with reserved seating for the most elite members. There was also a judges stand as well as a grandstand.

Among the star horses at this facility were Star Pointer, Jay Eye See and May Queen. The most prestigious event held at the Park was the Grand Circuit of 1917, a race as prominent then as the Kentucky Derby is now. Horses traveled, by train, from New Hampshire, Kentucky, Ohio and Massachusetts. Visitors to the track also made the trip by train from downtown Philadelphia. It was the place to see and be seen, according to the history of the Main Line.

The track remained popular for 50 years, fading with the dawn of the automobile age. In the last years of its existence, harness racing gave way to automobile races but in the end, the track did not have enough supporters to remain in existence. The property was sold off to a developer who developed the land for single family homes. The original stockholders of the Belmont Driving Club got a 200 percent profit on their investment--not bad!

Those homes still stand in what has come to be known as Merion Park and not even the street names give a hint of the area's colorful past

Sunday, June 14, 2009

Life After Barbaro

The most recent issue of Penn Vet's magazine, Bellwether, might well be subtitled, Life After Barbaro. The cover story is all about testing for drugs in thoroughbreds; there is a story about advances in laminitis research and the "Campaign Spotlight" is about the new surgical suite at New Bolton, made possible, in part by contributions to the Barbaro Fund. Barbaro's legacy is truly enhancing numerous aspects of equine welfare.

Certainly Barbaro's injury, as well as Big Brown's boisterous trainer, have placed the topic of drugs in racing center stage. While Barbaro did not race under the influence of any performance enhancers, many horses do and suffer injuries as a result. Penn veterinarians, Dr. Larry Soma and Dr. Cornelius Uboh became the first in the world to develop a method for detecting blood-doping agents in horses by testing their plasma. According to the article, "previously only the antibodies caused by the drug--not the drug itself--were detectable in the blood."

It is a continuous race to keep up with what Dr. Soma call, "basement chemists" and devise tests to detect their designer drug cocktails, but the welfare of the horse is ultimately at stake. Using plasma instead of urine is a cleaner test, especially for anabolic steroids.

Clearly their work has made a difference, especially in Pennsylvania where all horses must now compete anabolic-steroid-free. "We did some screening in 2005 and 60 percent of the horses running in Pennsylvania had anabolic steroid in them," says Soma. In the first two months of 2008, by contrast, 98.8 percent of the samples were negative.

The Laminitis Institute at Penn Vet is also enjoying renown, especially since Chris Pollit, BVSc, Ph.D. from the University of Queensland in Australia was tapped as research director. Together with Dr. Hannah Gallantino-Homer and Dr. Jim Orsini, they lead the efforts to find a cure for the disease that ultimately took Barbaro's life.

The ultimate goal of the Institute is to translate their findings on tissue banking, the pathogenesis of the disease and the creation of an in vitro lab model of laminitis into real life clinical applications. Certainly Barbaro's legacy is making a difference in trying to eradicate this horrible and common disease.

Contributions from the Barbaro Fund have not only helped the Vet School purchase new equipment for their existing surgical suite, they have become the literal foundation of the new surgical suite being planned at New Bolton Center. To date, more than $700,000 has been raised toward Penn Vet's goal of $10,000,000 for the new suite from more than 3,000 donors, many of then Friends of Barbaro.

In many ways, this incredible horse's legacy has contributed to better lives for horses everywhere and the mission continues.

Saturday, June 13, 2009

Meshie and the Boy With Whom She Lived

The relationship between humans and wild animals has always been one filled with tension and dichotomies. A recent article in the New York Times details the fascinating story of Harry Raven and the chimpanzee, Meshie, with whom he shared his home and childhood.

Mr. Raven's father, Henry Cushier Raven was a curator at the American Museum of Natural History in New York and he brought Meshie, an orphaned chimp, back from Africa on one of his expeditions for which he was famous. The chimp lived with his family and was kept in a cage in the basement or backyard.

Apparently, Meshie was the subject of many movies that his father made. In these films, Meshie plays with the children (Harry and his three siblings), but according to Harry it was all for the movies. He still bears the scar from when Meshie bit him on the finger--hard.

In fact, Meshie was the object of his father's affection in a way that his children never were, according to Harry. "I can't think of him every giving anybody a hug, except, Meshie," says Harry. "I used to go down the street and wait for him to get off the commuter bus. I would run down to give him a hug, he would lean down and I would kiss him on the cheek, but he would never kiss me."

In 1934, Meshie was shipped to the Brookfield Zoo in Chicago, apparently after Harry's mother, who was then pregnant with her fourth child, told her husband she couldn't take it any more. Meshie died in 1937 and Harry's father had her body shipped back to the Natural History Museum where she is stuffed and on display.

Harry, now 82 and the only surviving sibling, visited her recently and even imitated her noises for the New York Times reporter. For all of the grief she caused him, Harry bears no grudge.

"Meshie caused familial disruption. She was a presence. It wasn't her fault. She really didn't do anything. It was the fact that my father paid attention to her at the expense of his family. She was just a presence, but my father--was just not a good father. He was not a good father."

The moral of the story? Let wild things be wild.

Friday, June 12, 2009

Daily Racing Form Stays Profitable

The New York Times reported on Saturday about the unique combination of print and online features that has, so far, saved The Daily Racing Form from extinction. In this era of the demise of the newspaper, this is no small feat.

According to Richard Sandomir, the strategy of the Daily Racing Form is to augment its print offerings with those found on-line. In other words, there is no duplication of efforts. What is found on-line is an adjunct to what you can find in print.

The other part of the equation is the high sticker price for the Form. It is one of the most expensive papers in the world. Daily copies are $5 or $6 and that, according to chairman and publisher, Steven Crist, is where they make their money. Never mind that circulation is only 33,000. That circulation, according to Sandomir, "means revenue from at least $60 million from selling 39 regional editions of the paper at tracks (where The Form also publishes programs) and newsstands. Some days just a few thousand copies are sold; on Triple Crown days, 350,000."

Another factor in the paper's success is the specialized nature of its offerings. Put simply, you NEED a Racing Form to properly handicap races. You probably could find the information you need on line and print out just what you need to take with you to the track (and some horse players probably do), but there is something about marking up a Form and folding it just so, that goes with spending a day at the track.

Never mind that this is the industry's only daily; it is a niche paper that knows its niche. "Absolutely, we're profitable," acknowledges Crist. "Its not even close. We turn over a lot of cash."

So what's the lesson here for other papers? This is a highly specialized market with a need for the information contained in the publication. Nobody really needs local news, unless it contains information that cannot be found elsewhere, and that may be the lesson here. Publish something that people need and cannot find anywhere else and they will pay for it.

As for the internet, well, the concept of augmenting the publication with web information is fascinating--sort of like the extra stuff you get on a DVD. The next step for the Racing Form, according to Crist, will be to translate that stuff into data that can be downloaded onto a personal mobile device like a Blackberry or i-phone.

Better yet, would be a subscription to the Form available for the Kindle, although the audience is probably too small--my sisters and me!

Thursday, June 11, 2009

Name That Publisher.....

Last Sunday the New York Times Book Review ran a terrific back page graphic showing the "biodiversity" of publishing logos. Check it out here--you will have to click on the Graphic element of the Schematics section--and see if you can come up with a reason that so many publishing divisions use symbols from the plant/animal kingdom.

Not to give it away, but there are Bantam, Yearling, Penguin to name a few of the four legged variety and Poppy, Ivy and Orchard of the plant genus.

Just an interesting quirk and with the consolidation and demise of many publishing houses over the last several years, it may be that people remember symbols more than actual names at this point.

As they say, food for thought.

Wednesday, June 10, 2009

Ode to Kindle

It has been about a month since I started taking advantage of my Kindle and I must report that I have come to the conclusion that everyone should have one of these devices. I now understand all the talk about the future of publishing belonging to the electronic book. It is not only the future of publishing--it is the future of reading.

Here's what makes the Kindle almost indispensable to me: the ability to customize its features. Not only what books you want to read, but how you want to read them. Change the size of the type. Change the back light. Make it super personal by loading it up with your favorite daily reads from newspapers to blogs. And factor in the instant gratification element. It is truly right up there with the i-phone in terms of being one of those "what did I ever do without this?" devices.

Kids need these readers to eliminate backpack overload. Seniors need these readers to make reading kinder on their eyes and their hands--they are very light and portable. Travelers need these readers to make their suitcases lighter. Commuters need these readers to make their commutes more productive.

Book agents love them because they are able to download manuscripts from their computers onto their Kindles (they function as a hard drive) and save themselves the hassle of lugging around thousands of pages of print. Environmentalists love them because we are saving trees. About the only people who don't love them are those who haven't tried them ("But I love holding a book in my hands," is becoming pretty old as far as I'm concerned) and those who aren't getting properly compensated for their electronic sales.

All of this will change--mark my words. A book is not going to be a thing of the past--in fact it is never going to go away. What is going to change is the way we read the book.

And that is something book publishers need to realize. That the possibilities are more vast than they have ever been for break-through hits even when they have made the conscious decision to only purchase "sure things" written by "known" authors or celebrities.

Kind of ironic that the future of the industry is truly in the hands of those who understand the new concept of reading and that these people are not publishers.

Tuesday, June 9, 2009

It's Not the Crown, Its the Thorns In It

Sunday's New York Times had an article (for some reason it is not reprinted on line, hence no link) by Len Ragozin and Len Friedman, well known consultants to many in the thoroughbred world, about the Triple Crown being obsolete--as in impossible to achieve in this modern age of racing. And no, they are not blaming the tendency to breed for speed or the pampered existence of the racehorse. They are blaming the common practice of treating horses with everything from "vitamins" to "supplements" to drugs. The Triple Crown, they write, "is a dangerous grind in this era of chemically high-tech, high-powered training."

As evidence, they point to the fact that not only has there been no Triple Crown winner in 30 years, it has become the exception for a horse to continue to run well after he/she has won one or more legs of the Triple Crown. "Our mathematically generated historical records of thoroughbred performance show that horses that run extremely well during the Triple Crown almost never get back to their peak abilities," they note. Of course there are exceptions: Secretariat, Spectacular Bid and Curlin, but even those are few and far between.

It is not because they are all retired to the breeding shed; it is because they have run too fast, too hard, too close together. Their suggestion is to space the races four weeks apart. Even hall of fame trainer D. Wayne Lucas agrees with the idea, and he wants to add another twist: include the Travers in the title.

Will racing ever change the Triple Crown? Five years ago, I would have told you, Never. Now with the sport becoming almost as obsolete as the crown its participants pursue, I'm not sure. It seems to me that it is a no-win situation--no pun intended. If you change the rules, whoever wins the first title under the new regulations will never "measure up" to those that came before. Don't change them and there may not be another winner for another thirty years, by which time, no one will be paying attention.

A better solution seems to me to ban the use of all pharmaceutical additives. Go back to the days of running on hay and oats and we will be racing a stronger, healthier horse up to the challenge who will beget offspring equally as suited for the task. Level the playing field for everyone involved by taking everything away. I still might not see another Triple Crown in my lifetime, but my children might see one in theirs.

Monday, June 8, 2009

The Wrong Bird!

What can I say? I had the wrong Bird as did many others. But that Birdstone pedigree certainly prevails at the Belmont's distance. How about that for a first crop--a Kentucky Derby and Belmont winner as well as a second in the Preakness and a third in the Belmont. Watch that horse's stud book fill up faster than you can say Bird in the hand!

As for the race itself, I think Calvin made his move too soon but it seems like it was the horse who wanted to make that move. When I saw him begin to make his move along the back stretch I knew it was too early. That stretch at Belmont is endless. If he had waited until they turned for home, I think he would have been better off.

Remember Mine That Bird was able to make a flying finish in both the other Triple Crown races because he was technically just galloping for most of the race while the other horses ran themselves out. This time, when he tried to run with the others, in the longest of the Triple Crown races, he too did not have enough left at the finish.

Not so his half brother, Summer Bird, who bided his time on the rail until he could make his move, about halfway down that endless homestretch. Perfect timing with a lot of horse left.

Birdstone may have spoiled the Triple Crown for Smarty Jones but he also stamped his first crop with those same spoiler genes. He is one hot sire...Why not send Rachel Alexandra to him?

Sunday, June 7, 2009

Cover Girl

My sister's best friend used to be the assistant publisher of Vogue magazine. I say used to because I'm pretty sure she would have had a hard time dreaming up ads to go with a feature the magazine will be running in August on Rachel Alexandra!

According to Bloodhorse.com, Rachel posed for Vogue on Friday May 29 and was her usual beautiful self. In fact, she was so blase about the entire experience that she had to be awakened in her stall when it was time to primp!

The spread was the brainchid of Vogue editor Anna Wintour, famous for inspiring Meryl Streep's character in The Devil Wears Prada. Apparently she attended the Preakness and was inspired by Rachel's beauty AND athletic ability. The perfect Vogue woman!

Fashion photographer Steven Klein, better known for shooting such stars as Madonna, Angelina Jolie and Britney Spears, to name a few, did the honors in front of the Asmussen barn, where a plywood backdrop was erected for the occasion. Assistant to the trainer Scott Blasi held the lead shank.

Here's my guess about those ads. They will likely be for Kendall Jackson wine.

Saturday, June 6, 2009

Dog School(s)

According to the Philadelphia Inquirer,The Dean of Students at the University of Delaware is a puppy raiser for Seeing Eye of Morristown, New Jersey. In fact, his wife Robin Breisford heads the program at Rowan University in New Jersey where students bring their seeing-eye-dogs-in-training to class. At Rutgers University,15 dogs are involved in the program. Between the University of Delaware, Rowan and Rutgers, about 50 dogs are being molded into seeing eye dogs, thanks to their student trainers who involve their dogs in most aspects of their lives.

In fact, college campuses, according to guide-dog schools are one of the best places to expose guide-dogs-in-training to a variety of social situations. For this reason, schools all over the country are lobbying for puppy clubs for their students. At the moments, Ithaca College and Colorado State University also have programs.

According to George Breisford, Dean of Students at Delaware, "It is both the best and worst thing I've ever gotten involved with. "You get a dog and he's your dog and you treat him like he's your dog and you love him. And by the time they're getting to be a good dog and stopped chewing things and being rambunctious, that's when we give them back to Seeing Eye."

In order to be a puppy raiser, students must pass rigorous training, which usually involves puppy sitting for current club members. They also must get permission from their professors to bring their dogs to class.

It is hard work and not everyone makes it through. In fact, when Chris Parillo, president of the Rutgers puppy club had to give back his lab-mix, Elroy, he learned that there were actually more dogs than people who needed them, so he had the option of keeping his dog. This is the first time in the history of the organization that this had ever happened, but Parillo is not complaining. Elroy currently lives with his parents and is waiting for a new puppy to arrive.

And if for some reason the puppy fails to pass its eventual training at the Seeing Eye Institute, the puppy raiser is given the option to have the dog back. According to Kathy Daly, assistant manager and area coordinator for Seeing Eye Placement, it happens fairly frequently. Only 50 to 60% pass the final training.

There is no doubt about it; giving up the dogs is the hardest part of the assignment. "I can't tell you how hard it is to leave the dogs," agrees Robin Breisford. "We just have to understand that there's a purpose to these puppies and the potential to bring something amazing to someone else's life."

After the trainers turn their dogs in, they are only allowed to visit the dogs one time to watch it in action. They learn where the dog is placed but no contact is allowed with the new owner.

I, for one, could never do this but I am certainly glad that there are others who can.

Friday, June 5, 2009

Belmont Bound

Calvin Borel is feeling very confident about his chances of winning the Belmont according to Bloodhorse.com. After working the gelding a half mile at Churchill Downs on June 1, he pronounced him "perfect." "He's ready. We're going to win. No questions asked," he continued.

The workout was low key--galloping--and suited both horse and rider. "It wasn't fast, but he didn't need to go fast," according to Borel. "He gets more from galloping than he does from a work."

Borel is off to NYC for a whirlwind of activities, including taping the David Letterman Show (to air June 5) and ringing the opening bell on the stock exchange with Chip Woolley and Gary Contessa on June 3. Mine That Bird will arrive in the Big Apple on June 3.

All connections feel that the horse is training well, feeling fit and does not appear tired or sore after the other two Triple Crown races, a fact that Borel attributes to his late running style.

Lots of questions about the Belmont surface, the predictably slower pace, and that long Belmont stretch. Both jockey and trainer don't want Mine That Bird as far back as he was in the other two races. "It's going to be hard to close in this, I'm sure of that," said Woolley. "We're not going to change his running style. We're going to try and run the same race and see what happens."

One thing everyone agrees on is that the distance is not going to be a factor for this son of Birdstone, who also came out of nowhere to win the Belmont.

Sounds like a sound plan from Camp MTB and you know where my money will be on Saturday.

Thursday, June 4, 2009

Animal Art

The field of animal studies is absolutely fascinating because it encompasses so many different disciplines. As an example, there is a recent exhibit in Philadelphia at the Seraphin Gallery entitled "My Dog Speaks: Animal Narrative in Contemporary Art."

What is so fascinating to me is the concept of narrative as applied to art. Normally I think of narrative as a literary convention but apparently in this show, according to the review, the concept as applied to animals is "generally more poignant, puzzling and dark than cute."

Animals of course are a common theme in art, but in this show, the human-animal relationship is front and center. A piece by Bonnie Brenda Scott, entitled Trouble at Hen House, is painted on actual target sheets for coyotes and portrays the hunter-hunted conflict in graphic detail. Likewise, sculptures in the show portray the toll the environment is taking on young animals including birds and fawns.

Even the pieces with a more obvious narrative bent are akin to "fairy tales gone askew or awry." It seems all is not enchanted in the forest anymore as the impact of the human footprint comes closer and closer to the animal kingdom.

The theme has been popular in literary narrative so it seems fitting that visual narrative should follow suit.

Wednesday, June 3, 2009

Breed the Best to the Best

The New York Times had a great article on Sunday on the vagaries of horse breeding, in particular the plan of Jess Jackson to breed Curlin to Rachel Alexandra to create a "new breed of racehorse."

Frankly, anytime anyone talks about creating new breeds, I get a little wary--sounds too invasive to me. In this case the old adage seems to hold true, namely that if anyone actually knew how to do that, it would have already been done. History aside, the article talks about the degree of luck involved in pedigree matching and asks three breeding experts to give thier opinons of Jackson's matchmaking plans.

One of these experts is Headley Bell, bloodstock advisor to the Jacksons, who of course, suggested the pairing of La Ville Rouge and Dynaformer. We all know where that went and is continuing to go. I actually interviewed Headley some time ago about the degree of luck involved with that pairing and he was the first to admit, that there is a great deal of it in the breeding business.

You basically throw everything into a large pot and let it simmer, was his metaphor for his system. He does look for certain characteristics in both parents but most important to him is a stallion on the way up. In the case of La Ville Rouge, he was also looking for size since she is a small, compact mare. Judging by the impressive physiques of Barbaro and his brothers, that hunch paid off.

In the case of Rachel Alexandra, Bell chose Smart Strike, who happens to be Curlin's father. While it remains to be seen if Curlin will pass on his racing genes to his prodigy, his father's success is a little more definite. It sounds like a good match to me, but it also sounds like Jackson is pretty well set on breeding Rachel to Curlin.

The other interesting choice for Rachel came from Case Clay, president of Three Chimneys, who chose Dynaformer as Rachels number one mate. That also would be an interesting choice, but the size factor might be overwhelming. Rachel and Dynaformer are both big horses and they might produce a literal giant!

The bottom line is that horse breeding is just like the rest of the business--an expensive gamble!

Tuesday, June 2, 2009

Up, Up and Away!

When you see Up, and you will because I predict it will be the movie of the summer, you will join all those who have given it five stars!! The animation is amazing, the story is wonderful and the portrayal of the dogs is worth the ticket price.

Not to give away too much of the story, this is a classic tale of love and letting go--two of the most difficult things we humans ever have to do. It is also the story of how animals and children temper the effects of loss and aging. And if you ever wanted to know what Sammy would sound like if he could talk, look no further than the character of Dug in the movie--the lone retriever type dog.

The interaction between human and animals is fascinating and once again animals lead the way--reminding the human what is important--family and loyalty. Get a dog? Maybe. But also get back in the natural world to help cure whatever ails you.

In short, go see it. Don't even wait to take a child with you. This is a film that is perfect for everyone, with minimal dialogue, wonderful music and absolutely brilliant animation that will enthrall you. An "upper" in every sense of the word!

Monday, June 1, 2009

Odds and Ends

So now we know. Rachel Alexandra, as expected is skipping the Belmont and Calvin Borel will ride Mine That Bird. What do you think? Good or bad for attendance?

I would like to see some PR about Borel's possible personal Triple Crown--albeit on 2 different horses--and some thoughtful pieces about why it seems the only way to win a Triple Crown these days is on 2 different horses. I don't think NYRA should focus on the loss of Rachel but rather the presence of the Kentucky Derby winning team of MTB and Borel. If done properly, I don't see why attendance wouldn't be strong.

True Rachel has quite a following and quite a good story but so does Mine That Bird--a scrappy, little horse who certainly proved he was for real in the Preakness. I have said all along that I though he was bred to win the Belmont, so we'll soon find out if I'm right.

In other news, those who were worried about the status of the Barbaro Brother's blog, need not worry. Ron Mitchell of Bloodhorse is taking over and will be continuing posting updates. No official word as to why previous blogster Amanda Duckworth was let go, although I think she was always freelance and Bloodhorse may have wanted the blog back officially in house.

And in the toot your own horn department, my thesis was accepted for presentation at the 8th Annual International Conference of the Humanities in Hawaii next January!