The Real Time Canine II

After spending 2 years writing the Real Time Canine, the adventure continues with The Real Time Canine II. Read along as I look for just the right puppy to continue the experience. After false starts with Tim and Jed, I am currently training young Tam, and Spot, which are both off to a strong start. Please visit the RTC II to read about training sessions as they occur.

Thursday, July 23, 2009

The 70th Running

Opening day of the 70th Racing Season at Del Mar Thoroughbred Club in California
The Del Mar race season opened yesterday and as a lifelong horseman, I'm completely torn over the sport of horse racing. On one hand I am absolutely besotted with the incredible nature of these finely tuned race horses. They are like formula cars with a beating heart. At the level of the Del Mar meet, They are bred from the very best and raised, for the most part, in ideal conditions with grass and space and optimum nutrition. Trained over surfaces scientifically engineered to provide as much safety as is humanly possible, their speed is intoxicating.

Once off the farm, they are handled with butter-soft kid gloves for their entire racing career. Grooms, exercise riders, bloodstock agents, trainers, racing managers, and owners definitely know how to sweat the minutae. There could be no other standard for creatures that have been known to sell in the millions.

These horses receive medical attention and physical therapy for even the tiniest health blip, are exercised daily, bathed daily, hand-walked daily and fed the finest, and many times the most expensive feed to be found. Last year when I was paying almost $18 a bale for the most expensive alfalfa I had ever bought in my life, most tracks continued to feed Timothy hay. At somewhere around $25 per bale the theory is that you can't put regular gas in a Ferrari.

If you have never experienced the transcendental feeling of standing inside the paddock area before a race , then find some way to do so. Go to the track and do whatever it takes to meet someone who will take you in. With the huddled masses of betting public jostling for position outside the bubble, it always seems as though I have been propelled to another galaxy while I'm there.

Horses for the next race are being saddled then paraded, jockeys receive last minute instructions from the owners, friends of owners try to talk intelligently about the horses, trainers nervously check and double-check everything while their wives hover about trying unsuccessfully to keep owners away from the jockeys, and the horses from that proximity take my breath away. I most certainly don't belong there, but have visited, loosely surrounded by the glitterati as if I did, and it was kind of fun.

Opening day of the 70th Racing Season at Del Mar Thoroughbred Club in California

So why am I conflicted? Because of the trauma. Most, if not all race horses experience some kind of injury before their first race. They are started as yearlings, before muscle, tendon and bone has a chance to mature. The incredible stress of training lends itself not only to physical deterioration, but mental as well, and most race horses are compensating for an injury of some kind when they race. I just wish the industry would compel owners to wait until they are older to start them.

Del Mar just opened and already there have been 2 horse deaths and one jockey injured at the track. Mad for plaid, a maiden filly, (never won a race,) broke the seismoid bone in her left front ankle during a morning work on the track a few days before the opening. On opening day a horse called Mi Rey fractured his leg in the third race. After being thrown off, his jockey, Rafael Bajarano was stepped on by another horse and broke his jaw.

To alleviate such tragedy and a
t an estimated cost of about $50,000,000, 3 Southern California thoroughbred tracks installed a synthetic racing surface to better protect the horses that race there. It worked and track fatalities are down from an average of 13 per year to 6 and 7 in 2007 and 2008 .

Unlike a formula car, you can't just take your horse back to the garage and replace a part, but there is no easy answer, for me anyway. I appreciate the rich history, and even more, the tradition. I have visited a stallion farm in Kentucky and one of my oldest and very best friends is a highly regarded trainer. I understand the care and attention lavished on these horses and I know absolutely how much they are revered, loved and respected.

Financially, racing is suffering right along with the rest of us. Attendance is down, famous Hollywood Park Race Track is scheduled for urban development and owners of historic Santa Anita Park have filed for chapter 11 bankruptcy. Conflicted as I am over the well being of the horses, it would be heartbreaking for me to see an end to the sport of kings. I would much prefer we continue to imrove track surfaces, breeding practices and training methods, and just wait a little bit longer to start the babies.

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