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TrackNotes: The Immutable Constant

TrackNotes should really just stick to horse racing, I guess.

But so many political, corporate, social, economic, religious and even sporting institutions are bringing so much exploitation weight to bear on the back of society, it's palpable, concerning at least, and depressing at times. Why are so many people, hiding behind so many monoliths, trying to hurt us so much?

Human sport, instead of simply playing the compelling games it has and inviting fans to enjoy them, cooks itself down, creating a new jones every year like a pusher managing the appetites and demands of the masses. It's as institutionalized as anything around.

Now, my game is being more and more thought of as a thing that must be organized, straightened out, managed, united. Isn't that the same as institutionalizing? If I had any faith whatsoever that the lords of the sport could behave nicely and still maintain the fiercely independent spirit, it would be stirring. But survival might hang in the balance.

Back before the Kentucky Derby, I said the sport is facing a defining moment in its existence, perhaps staring down its own mortality.

With all of the horse deaths at Santa Anita and now the 2019 Kentucky Derby subjected to the meat grinder of the modern information age, anyone who cares about the game is compelled to reflection.

I'm happy to say that in the wake of our recent course of events, especially the fatalities, it's ranging from pining about it to important people making important proposals and rules changes.

We got one thing going for us.

Thoroughbred horse racing has had one immutable constant, its very genesis and also its indefatigably burning energy and glowing depth of soul for all these millennia: the Thoroughbred race horse.

Lord knows he's tried, but the honest man knows he'll never truly control the horse. To me, that's the most wonderful thing, and the best thing in any sport. A race horse will give you everything he has, but if a mare feels motherhood, she'll stop running. If the chase becomes futile, a colt will go through the motions. They'll sense the exploitation and act accordingly. The beauty is that this will always, and should always, humble a man, from Bob Baffert on down.

Humanely, the horse must be protected. Selfishly, the horse must also be protected if the game is to go on. Either way, the horse holds all of us, we don't hold him. And if racing people on all levels don't understand that . . .

It's going to be a challenge, but the Stronach Group, owners of tracks including Santa Anita and Gulfstream, advocated early the banning of Lasix, an anti-bleeding medication, and a serious curtailment of the amount of whipping a jockey does to a horse in a race. The extension of time before a race for the usage of corticosteroids is also on the agenda.

Just an aside, but the whipping of horses in American races has got to stop. In a race at Pimlico today, did the jockey on the rail stop beating the horse because he didn't make a move? Or did the horse stop running because he was pissed at getting hit so much? England, no. Hong Kong, fine or suspension. Effing do it here.

Churchill Downs Inc., like a bad big-city mayor, dragged its feet kicking and screaming into its pillow until it had to join the discussion.

Churchill's hypocrisy oozes in a piece from the Daily Racing Form's Matt Hegarty: "Churchill also owns and operates the industry's leading account-wagering company, twinspires.com, and any threat to the continued existence of tracks outside its own stable would jeopardize that business, too."

Churchill has also promised an equine medical center, construction of a quarantine facility (the two main ones for foreign horses now are at Arlington Park and Belmont Park), and jockey concussion protocols. And also more barn cameras.

Jesus H road apple, read it, and it's a masterful press release. Loaded with buzz words, answers and solutions for everyone and everything, portraying a sense of responsibility and stewardship of the game. I know, I used to write press releases.

Hegarty explains how Churchill, naturally, feels above it all. Divide and conquer, Churchill doesn't support an effort by the Jockey Club to impose American Anti-Doping Agency guidelines to racing. "We don't believe a federal bill is practical, reasonable or imminent," said Churchill CEO William Carstanjen.

No shit, Sherlock. Your senator is Mitch McConnell and he has said that if Churchill doesn't support it, neither does he. So Churchill is happy to foment some measure of chaos and division between regions.

The future of racing itself? There have been petition efforts in California to ban horse racing, and California does not require a lot of signatures for a ballot question.

If racing doesn't clean up its act, it will deserve the heat more and more and more. Which could get to the point of burning up.

Many of these trainers say, for various reasons, "The horse will tell us what he wants."

As audacious, and real, as that is, start listening.

Maximum Outrage
It's a whole 'nother column, which maybe I'll do. But can you imagine what kind of socially angry, morally outraged and funereally depressed state this country would have been in if Maximum Security had wiped out the three or five horses he almost did in the Derby?

But the total disrespect for the law and the absolute right to entitlement that starts at the very top of this country reared its ugly head as the is-what-it-is crowd and how-could-they-gang came out of the wood holes.

I was talking to this one guy.

"But he won the race," he said.

"No he didn't," I said. "He, and Saez, cheated."

"But he won the race."

"No, he compromised the chances of at last three other horses to win."

"But he won the race. He came in first."

"He was reckless to the point of danger of other horses and riders, more than once. And kept them from having a chance to win. So he was disqualified and rightfully so."

"But he won."

"No, he didn't."

I could only walk away.

Preakness Postscript
The Preakness is Saturday.

On paper, it's the worst I remember, and the most lacking in accomplishment in many years.

The horses are all nice. Somewhat evenly matched. Therefore, it should be a good betting race and could be a very exciting race too. Very much worth watching.

Unless the winner goes on the win the Travers, Wood Memorial, Jockey Club and Breeders' Cup (that's a joke, son), it will be nothing more than a nice day at the races, which I'm all for.

-

Tom Chambers is our man on the rail. He welcomes your comments.

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