Twitter went kind of ballistic this morning when Joe Drape's latest piece in the New York Times hit the wires. In the article, the writers looked at vet records for I'll Have Another, before he was scratched two days before the Belmont.
What they found was nothing that would not be found in many horses a week before a race. Since most horses have ailments, like humans do, they are treated for it before starts. It's not cruel, it's not illegal. It's just what's done.
I was not a fan of the article as is based on its (what I think) lack of clarity, but in my opinion it does bring up a discussion that racing can have, and should have. How much is too much?
I read an article not long ago where a trainer was interviewed and he discussed what he did when a new horse entered his barn. "Inject everything" was his main thought. Of course, add some jugs, joint meds etc. Then he raced the horse, to try and get back all that money he put into him.
With slots money that is all made much easier nowadays. There is an economic reason to do it.
Long ago, older time horsemen would give more time to horses to heal. The meds were not as good, and time was a great healer, because you wanted to try and move your horse up the ladder, not for one or two starts before being reclaimed. It's the way owners thought as well. We didn't claim or buy a new horse to be a commodity, we bought one to try and race for awhile and see if he or she could do well. Today, partnerships even exacerbate this phenomenon, because they need to do something rarely done in racing for all of us, show a profit.
Doug O'Neill didn't do anything wrong that I saw. He just used modern vet work, and legal drugs to get a horse with some ailments ready to race. Out of the 20 starters in the Derby, for example, I bet about 18 of them did similar. It's the way the game is played today. But it makes one wonder: Should it be played this way?
The reason I don't think some of these New York Times articles are 100% hit pieces, is because other sports have evolved and gone through the same periods, with the same critiques.
I remember my stable partner relaying me a story. His father played professional football in the 1960's, and there was a lineman who was always getting hurt.
One day the coach told him:
"If you come out of the game one more time this season, you're released."
After a few plays during their next game he came back to the huddle and said he thought he hurt his leg badly. He could barely stand.
My friends father said "get off the field".
He replied, "I can't or I'll lose my job".
He stayed in the game for as long as he could, but finally, he had to come out. He had a compound fracture of his leg.
If that happened today, a lawsuit from a players association, or a New York Times article or two would certainly rule the roost. Coaches telling people to play with a broken leg or be fired would make the bounty story look tame.
Football has changed, boxing has changed, hockey has changed. Head
injuries are looked at differently, you can't fight once a week like the
old days if you're a boxer, equipment has changed, doctors and drugs
have changed, what's allowed and what's not allowed has changed.
Many sports have evolved and have gone through many of these discussions long ago. Racing appears to have not evolved virtually at all, and it doesn't matter if "this is the way it's always been done". Discussions about patching up horses to get them sound enough to make money, might not only be inevitable, but needed.