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Wanted: Excellence

by Christine Picavet

"We are what we repeatedly do. Excellence, then, is not an act, but a habit." Aristotle

One of the greatest resources that horse racing has is that "the public is intensely emotional about horses". This emotional evolvement is a two-edged sword, and racing will either benefit greatly or suffer accordingly, depending upon whether it is perceived by the public as being decent and honest, or not. It is matter of conscience as well as sound business.

Timothy J. Magner recently wrote in Forbes: "Pitting commerce versus nature, how about asking what we might learn from nature to improve commerce?" and paraphrasing: Our industry "is hugely inefficient. Let's learn from nature and rethink design."

As flight animals, horses are fragile. Thoroughbreds are bred and inbred for commercial speed. Premature drilling for speed further compromises durability and survival. Drugs cut corners and may give horses the illusion of soundness even as their fitness deteriorates. Many horses nose-dive into the "claiming game", a voracious cancer overdue for radical surgery.

Animal welfare matters to our civilized world. Exploiting live animals in public is dicey. Cheaters are tolerated, copied, rewarded, even honored. Winning is no justification for arrogance, cruelty, or the use of illegal means. Racing needs clear, honest thinking and conviction: hardcore cheaters must go. The threat of unbearable fines would keep everyone on the straight and narrow.

Even with the little it knows, the public is justifiably troubled by racing and is cringing from afar. Mountains of gifts showered on beloved horses by fans of all ages should be the wake-up call: horses are loved, racing is not. Substantial investments in advertising, big events, sugarcoated stories and damage control are for naught. Marketing will pay generous dividends after racing has earned the trust and respect of the public.

A sea change toward protecting race horses is not a matter of if but of when. Racing should not wait for more tragedies, scandals or litigations in order to clean its house. Prevention should be key. Infirm and questionable horses should not be allowed to run. The "live product", regardless of its condition, should not be taken by some only as the conduit to slots. Don't squeeze the "inventory" dry then blame the track surface.

It is safer to manipulate racing dates than horses. Running only racing-sound horses would keep them running longer and at higher levels. It would be well worth any initial disruption and inconvenience. By being flexible, tracks and states could boost the quality of races and when healthy horses are available, festive bonus days could offer higher purses, discounted fares, casino-like gift contests and lower take outs.

Equine medical history from birth could be entered in a central database and fully disclosed. With on-track drugstores, medicating would become transparent, controllable and conservative. To encourage maturity, two year olds could run drug free for smaller purses and older horses would earn the big prizes. The ever-escalating rat race to run with the latest edge would fizzle.

No matter what the collective speed is, there would always be a winner in each race. Victory could be achieved with athletic fitness and riding strategies rather than medicated speed and force. With limited whipping, less fear and pain, horses could perform better and recover faster physically and mentally. Racing records earned with genuine talent and breeding for soundness would improve the Thoroughbred naturally.

Injecting joints with cortico-steroids, if permitted at all, should be rare. Joint destruction by cortisone is irreversible.

Racing should create a complete, updated, surgical hardware bank. Parts could be delivered overnight to injured horses. Veterinary hospitals would avoid carrying expensive inventories, owning outdated parts or being unable to perform a surgery because of missing hardware.

The industry should set a priority to responsibly retire and rehabilitate horses whose racing or breeding careers are behind them. Veterinarian-assisted euthanasia should be performed whenever it is the kindest alternative. The barbaric traffic and slaughter of horses must end.

Excellence is good for the soul and would do wonders for racing. You can bet on it!

Christine Picavet exercised horses for ten years for conditioners such as leading French trainer Francois Mathet and Hall of Famer Charlie Whittingham. She has also worked at Dr W O Reed's hospital at Belmont Park, preparing horses for surgery, then monitoring them. During that time Picavet assisted Ruffian's surgery.

She has owned and bred a few horses.

Currently Ms Picavet is an equine artist and has been painting commissions of Thoroughbreds for 30 years, including many champions. Her paintings are in collections around the world and she has had 70 covers of magazines and racing programs. Her work can be seen at www.ChristinePicavet.com

Email: Christine Picavet


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