Curtis: Racing leaders absent from HBO’s ‘Real Sports’ story

May 22, 2019 02:22pm
HBO's "Real Sports with Bryant Gumbel" on Tuesday night threw salt in the wound of horse racing's Santa Anita Park fatalities with a graphic report on the sport from Bernard Goldberg.

"Raced to Death" places the blame squarely on unnamed greedy owners and trainers who allegedly drug their horses and force them to race, with the piece including clip after clip of Thoroughbreds tripping, falling, rolling and dying.

It is sickening footage, and the report says 2,000 horses die every year at American tracks.

You could be forgiven after watching for wanting to shut the whole sport down. But what HBO fails to show are the many steps taken since 2008 to increase safety and reduce fatalities.

The Jockey Club's Equine Injury database contradicts the show's numbers. Also, footage of slaughter-bound horses was re-run from a previous HBO report. In a segment about the European racing, it is implied as well that there is no drug testing in the United States, while the urine-collection procedure detailed at Chantilly in France is, in fact, done at every U.S. track, too.

But what does any of this have to do with the deaths at Santa Anita? The obvious culprit, a track surface made dangerous by a wet winter, was never mentioned.

Where are racing's leaders to make any of those points? The Jockey Club's Chairman, Stuart Janney, fed the show's narrative, blaming shadowy, unnamed track owners who "want to keep the power they've got, even though they've done a terrible job with it."

Janney is no stranger to the painful side of horse racing, as his family campaigned the ill-fated filly, Ruffian. It is incredibly disappointing that he would shift blame in this fashion.

The Jockey Club should be on the front line countering the allegations in the HBO report. The NTRA, supposedly in charge of public relations, government lobbying and racetrack safety and integrity, is completely absent. There was no word or comment from TOBA, whose horses fill the races.

While it is naive to think the above would receive equal airtime, their silence in the aftermath is deafening. No one was ahead of this narrative, even though we've known for weeks this report was coming. And no one is behind it trying to tie up the loose ends. 

Also curious is the lack of any commentary from Santa Anita horsemen, whose misfortune incited the national media coverage.

Leadership is leaving it to participants -- fans, horse players and trade publications -- to stand up for the industry, making for a piecemeal, ineffective response. They should take responsibility for the sport and present the unified, professional message that the sport deserves.


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