We have perception problems in racing with drugs and the like. Steve Crist mentioned not long ago on his blog that when he asked about drugs and penalties the sentiment from fans was to "hang them high and hang them higher". I don't blame those people - there are some bad people in racing who wantonly break the rules by some means that are not acceptable. As the Ontario Racing Commission said recently, "having a license to race is not a right, it is a privilege", so showing the people that have used awful things like EPO and snake venom to willfully cheat the public and fellow horsemen the door is preferred.
However, do we work hard enough to expose the general public and the racing fan to our horses while at the track to help stop some of the perception that we are all a bunch of crooks, and that we don't treat these horses well?
I was at Georgian Downs last night for the races and I went to the paddock. This is a "B track" and "B" tracks are not supposed to have the grandest looking steeds. This is not Keeneland. But that could not be more wrong. Almost every horse I looked at was immaculate. He or she looked like they were treated like gold - shiny coats, toting grooms, healthy happy horses. Speaking to the grooms, which I do often, all you see is a deep care for the horses they have to take care of. Pink tassles on mares are common. Braided manes, like they are a Michelangleo creation, are on virtually every horse. Drugs, milkshakes, people "putting one over on us"? Cripes no.
In addition, the testing area is right there in front of "insiders" and we see how the horses are tested. It is professional and with tight security. There is no question what happens here.
I need an ORC to get in to see this, but can we find a way for more people to see them and be exposed to this? Why is the backstretch or back paddocks locked from the public so, so much?
I would guess the answer is insurance and racing commission rules. But it would be great if we could find a way around this.
The thoroughbred game is equally tight, eventhough they have front paddocks in many places. I went to Mohawk a month ago and pet champion steed Well Said on the nose. I brought a long-time fan in with me, and he pet him and took pictures. Try that with Rachel Alexandra someday. I bet you'd get tackled by a security guard.
If you build it they will come is a great line in a movie, but it has no place in racing. That worked 20 years ago when other gambling games were not prevalent and the crowd had nowhere else to go. It is a different world today, and if we are going to be proactive to combat fan misconceptions and grow racing, bringing fans closer and giving them a birds-eye view of the sport is vital, in my opinion.
Can we not do better and find a way to make it happen?
Photo: Well Said, up close and personal, taken by long time fan Norm F.
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