Combating the lies of the anti-racing brigade

Last Sunday, after watching the disappointing coverage of the Kentucky Derby, I decided to join a crew of work colleagues at the races at Trentham and catch some live racing.

An unseasonably temperate afternoon attracted a smattering of families assembled on the grass along with others like us, who fell into the owners and/or racing tragic categories.

What greeted us at the main gate was an anti-racing protest.  I wouldn’t have noticed the four women holding variations of the same sign if it wasn’t for their leader continually droning her misleading message via a megaphone.

The poor gate staff had obviously been enduring the aural pollution for some time as one was able to repeat it verbatim while shaking her head at the madness of it all.

According to the sad and misguided quintet horse racing kills and horses are all destined for an afterlife as pet food.

The organisation which is currently pushing this group into the New Zealand market is Australian based hence the misinformation they are spreading is even less applicable to the reality of what is happening in New Zealand.

The group uses several ways to distribute their view of the world, predominantly via their website but also via these “protests” and, most recently, via letters attacking those who support the racing industry as sponsors.

Unfortunately, engaging with them is a futile exercise.  While protesting they repeatedly chant their mantra, perhaps thinking stating it might make it real.  Poor souls who attempt to correct the factual errors this group propagates on its website by debating with them online are accused of hating animals and “not being open to looking at the facts” – it is a losing battle.

Likewise, those who query the organisation’s involvement in providing homes for off the track thoroughbreds are rapidly reminded that rehoming is not their role.

In addition to displaying their total lack of understanding of thoroughbred horse racing, the letters being sent to race day sponsors show a lack of comprehension of the point of sponsorship.

In part these letters state that through their sponsorship of racing the recipient supports animal cruelty and goes on to claim, “we have no doubt the general public would be very disappointed if they were aware of this partnership.”

My twisted humour – because when confronted with the bare faced lies this mob fling around the place if you don’t laugh, you’d cry – has me wondering if they are actually doing us a favour by letting the sponsor know their contribution has been noticed.

This is where racing needs to start flexing its collective muscles and reminding the misinformed anti-racing brigade of what really happens to those horses who don’t want to be racehorses.

Somewhat ironically, the day before I encountered the protesters at Trentham, I had gone riding.  My trusty steed on that occasion was Ted, a 19-year-old thoroughbred who – due to difficulties pinpointed early in his life whereby he was deemed to be cursed by a lack of ability – had never set foot on a racecourse.

Now, according to megaphone lady at Trentham Ted would’ve been dog-food the minute this flaw in his make-up was detected.

Unfortunately, for them the real flaw lies with their statement – or lie, to be more exact – that slow thoroughbreds end up at the knackers.

I’m not basing this argument solely on Ted’s more than sturdy shoulders though.  Over many years I have had first-hand experience of what happened to horses once they stopped racing.

My grandfather, having developed spooky connections with most horses he trained, found there were some he could never let go.  They filled various roles in the stable during their retirement, from nannying young horses, providing safe riding opportunities for apprentices still learning their trade, or even as self-appointed quality control of feed.

In subsequent years I have had shares in too many slow thoroughbreds who, once sacked from the stable, have gone on to lead productive lives.

Most recently, one of the horses I was occasionally called upon to feed while her “people” were sunning themselves on the Gold Coast, was another never-raced thoroughbred.  Somewhat smaller than your average racehorse she did, though, find an alternative career as a polo pony.  These days, in her 20s she gets to pass her infinite wisdom on to younger horses who just might be destined for a career on the track.

There are hundreds of stories like this out there, if we are going to combat the lies, we need to ensure we meet those lies with the “facts” we have living in various paddocks around the country.

 

 

 

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Counting down to the Run for the Roses

In another lifetime, many years ago, I held a role as a pedigree writer.

This rather intriguing title required two key requisites – immaculate hand-writing (what people used to do in the era pre-computers) AND a quiet and subdued office manner.  Somehow, I managed to end up in the very hushed and hallowed halls of Wrightson Bloodstock as a member of the pedigree writing team despite failing monumentally on both fronts.

For some reason, known only to her (and possibly regretted every day of the mercifully short time I spent there) the late Jane McClintock Bunbury took a punt and signed me on.

My role – well, the only bit I remember – was to update the race record cards of the NZ-bred horses which raced in Australia, by carefully (the neat hand-writing bit) transcribing their performance from the Australian Racing Calendar.  This information was used to create the pedigrees of those blue-blooded youngsters which made it into the yearling sales catalogues.

These cards – there must have been thousands of them – were stored in a giant circular contraption known as the whirly-gig. I can only imagine the celebrations when computers meant the end of all that neat writing in tomb-like silence!

Fortunately for the sanity of the aforementioned Jane Bunbury and my fellow pedigree writers, my time at Wrightsons was blissfully short and I was off to my natural calling, working at NZ BloodHorse magazine.

While the days of rubber-band fights and breeding debates were over, we stayed in touch.

As we all shared a passion for thoroughbred racing and breeding though, many of my weekends involved excursions to the races with my former workmates.  Or, more relevantly to this time of the year, extensive sleuthing to discover somewhere we could watch the Kentucky Derby.

As difficult as it is to believe now, there was once a time when racing could only be viewed on-track or, in the case of international racing, by finding somewhere with an extremely flash, state-of-the-art dish capable of picking up coverage.

This led to some interesting venues for our Derby brunches.  I have a vivid memory of watching one renewal of the Derby from the all-but-us-deserted back bar of a cavernous North Shore pub better known for hosting bands the likes of DD Smash – at least the screen was a decent size.

The effort which went into finding a locale where we could enjoy the most exciting two minutes in sports, as the run for the roses is billed, was akin to the preparation to scale one of the seven summits.

Of course, it all got so much easier when we could watch it from the comfort of someone’s home rather than schlepping all over Auckland.

One of the highlights of Kentucky Derby viewing over the years has been the quality of the coverage. It seemed that every horse had an incredible back-story and, no matter whether he was a 100-1 longshot or the raging favourite, that story was given the full treatment.

The pre-race interviews were insightful and professional, and the emotional impact was clear, and allowed to shine without any interviewer cheesiness, after the event.

There was a stage I recall having to watch the coverage on ESPN via Sky, the reason why escapes me, it may have been that Trackside chose not to provide coverage.  Equally, it could well have been their coverage was limited to the odds and race pictures only, I didn’t care the ESPN coverage was perfect for the race fan.

This weekend will see the 145th running of the Kentucky Derby.  While I won’t be enjoying a race day brunch to mark the occasion, I will be joining the international viewing audience to see whether Bob Baffert can add to his impressive tally.

I’ll also be re-watching the Kentucky Derby episode of 7 Days Out an outstanding Netflix insight into the behind the scenes lead up to Justify’s 2018 victory.