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Cringing at Horse Racing Yet Watching It Anyway


Despite the fact I object to much of what is done in the world of horse racing, I’ll be watching the Belmont Stakes horse race on June 9, no doubt wincing while I do so.

Before you fire off an email calling me a hypocrite, please know I will only be tuning into the Belmont for the same reason I watched this year’s Kentucky Derby: Because Sue Baby wants me to watch it with her, and at her age, Sue Baby gets what she wants.

Sue Baby is my mother, and if you guessed by the nickname (no, it’s not her legal name) that she’s Southern, you are correct. Born and raised in Kentucky, Sue Baby grew up in an era of white gloves and lacy Sunday hats and mint juleps. And horses. Of her four children, apparently I was the only one who inherited that gene, just as I also got her dark eyes and longish French nose.

My dad used to watch horse races with her, but since he died that role has fallen to me. So I will be turning on the Belmont, crossing my fingers that nothing more tragic happens on that track than some fans losing money by betting on the wrong horse.

Because the facts don’t support pushing young horses.

In his ground-breaking new DVD, “Lameness: Its Causes & Prevention,” renown veterinarian Dr. Robert Miller explains that he believes there are 11 major causes of lameness: age, defective conformation, nutrition, lack of exercise, injury from an unsafe environment, ­inappropriate ground surfaces, improper foot care, laminitis, infection, genetics and too much work at too young an age.

Thoroughbreds are not immune to that.

To top it off, Doug O’Neill, the trainer of Triple Crown contender I’ll Have Another, has gotten than a dozen violations for doping horses. And according to The New York Times, “the horses he trains break down or show signs of injury at more than twice the rate of the national average.”

I swore off watching horse races after what happened to Barbaro, and that was reinforced by the death of Eight Belles. But when your elderly mother wants company for her tradition, what do you do?

So I picked her up from the assisted living facility where she lives and brought her to my house for the Kentucky Derby. She wore a pale blue suit, hose, sensible heels and a floppy-brimmed, gauzy white hat. We ate appetizers and chatted and while she didn’t have a mint julep, she did have a “co-cola.”

We won’t be in my living room on June 9–my mother had a small stroke over Memorial Day weekend and is now in a rehabilitation hospital, learning how to walk and dress herself and talk clearly once again–so I will pack up some festive food and bring it to her room where we will watch the Belmont Stakes.

And even though it’s the wrong horse race, maybe I’ll even sneak in some mint juleps.


Categories: Lameness.

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14 Responses

  1. Amy, I agree whole-heartedly with your comments. I will be watching too (and praying the entire time that no injuries – catastrophic or otherwise – occur. I do not believe the public is informed enough about the dangers of such strenous activity on such young horses. They are still developing and growing at three and should be allowed to fully mature before such rigorous demands are made of them. That being said, we should also bring to light more of the positives, like the jockeys that truly care about the horse and not the outcome of the race. An example is the jockey that pulled up on Big Brown rather than pushing him to finish the race because he felt “off” – I LOVE that man for doing that! I know there are more of them out there – let’s cheer them on and maybe our compassion will spread and make this sport a little more “horse friendly.” After all, if it was not for the horse, there would be no race.

    • Janet, I am in total agreement with both you — and Amy. It seems that money and competition (almost the same) drive the racing community. I thought the TV show Luck was doing a good job in bringing out many of the realities of the business…but I understand and agree with their reasons for stopping the series. Something like the jockey you mentioned…it was the right thing to do…Peggy

  2. Ah, Janet, you make excellent points!

    I agree with you, as well, especially about giving credit to the jockeys. I had forgotten about Big Brown’s jockey pulling him up–what an admirable thing to do.

    Thanks for the very thoughtful comment.


  3. Bless your heart for the care and attention you give your mom, Sue Baby. I miss my mom every day, so carry on. Hope your mom makes a full recovery!! Have a mint julep…you deserve it.


    Kate CaballeroJune 6, 2012 @ 11:40 am
  4. Thank you, Kate!

    And I believe I will…


  5. In addition, the owner of I’ll Have Another, Paul Reddam, isn’t exactly a standup guy, having made his fortune in a distasteful if not shady way. See the short article I reference below. Not exactly the kind of person I want to see winning the next triple crown of horse racing.

  6. Amy,
    Your story today brought back many memories for me. I also am conflicted about horse racing, having been raised in a family that for generations has bred, raised, and trained thoroughbreds. Vivid in my mind are the Spring Saturdays when the family would gather around the small television in the “tv room” (the spare bedroom where a television had been set up for my grandmother to watch the “big three” races), draw names from a hat, put up our dollar, and cheer or cry at the outcome. Back then, the Triple Crown was not as unattainable, as it seemingly is today. Although the younger generations were quite unafraid to show emotion, my darling grandmother would lie there in lace negligee, the perfect example of a lady.

    Once a year, my Dad and Mom and my brother and I would attend races at the local track, which wasn’t much to speak of in the horse world but which was as close to red carpet entertainment as we could find. Everything had a certain magic and just being that close to the enormous horses was more than thrilling. It was only later, as I became aware of the evils of the race track — gambling addictions, doping, and more — that my feelings toward racing took on a decidedly negative tone. Then, when I got horses of my own and studied about the proper care of young horses, I refused to go to the races or even to watch them on television.

    I think the tragedy of Barbaro gave millions of racing fans their first moments of education as to the horrible possibilities of racing. For me, there could not possibly be any reason to put any animal in a situation where severe injury might be the outcome. In the heydays of your mother and my grandmother, racing might truly have been called a “sport”; I have to believe that very few people these days are gullible enough to believe that. It is a business with high stakes, even for those fortunate families who have been associated with it for many years. That is one reason that the motto of my family’s ranch is “Where animals are a pleasure, not a business.”

    Mary Anne LittleJune 6, 2012 @ 12:56 pm
  7. Amy, I forgot to send your mother my best wishes for a speedy and complete recovery. Your description of your watching the Kentucky Derby with her in her nursing home brought me memories of my Dad and me doing the same during the years he was in a nursing home as well. Those times come back now as very special ones, gifts to hold onto for the rest of your life. God bless both of you.

    Mary Anne LittleJune 6, 2012 @ 1:02 pm
  8. God Bless You! I agree about racing horses. I hope your mom gets better. I still am lucky to have my mom. She is 90 and survived a stroke.


    Marta FrancisJune 6, 2012 @ 8:29 pm
  9. I remember when Ruffian broke down, too. I’ll be watching the Belmont Stakes and later the Breeders’ Cup races in November. And, I’ll also be praying there are no injuries to any horse or jockey.

    The deep pockets and tradition would never stand for it but … I’d like to see a nationwide law passed that forbids even training a horse for racing before they are 3½ or 4 years old. They need to grow to maturity before being asked to exert themselves in a race.

  10. Perhaps reform will happen one day.

    And a very sincere thanks for the well wishes for my mother. I will tell her!


  11. Amy,
    I hope your mom is recovering quickly. What your doing for her is a really nice thing even though it’s hard for you to do. I remember watching horse racing when I was very young because I loved horses, and that was about the only time I saw them on t.v. As an adult, I’ve worked for a hay transportation company and at least one of their clients were aressted for killing their race horses for the insurance money. Then even later I read an article where it is legal to give a racehorse a “milkshake” which consisted of bleach and cake mix. The bleach was to get more oxygen to the muscles, and the cake mix was to keep the bleach from damaging the digestive tract. This is done via a stomach tube and if it’s accidentaly put into the lungs instead of the stomach the horse will drown on bleach and cake mix. That did it for me! I thought horses in racing were the best of the best of their selective breeding and training. I did not know such practices were allowed. It seems racing has turned into nothing more than money for alot in the business and that’s not something I want to be a part of. I feel really sorry for racehorses.
    Let’s get the awareness going!

    lisa clevelandJune 12, 2012 @ 5:13 pm
  12. Hi, Lisa,

    Thank you for your kind recovery wishes.

    As for racing–Yes, I agree with you, the more awareness, the better. The industry will not change its ways, nor its rules, until the public demands it.


  13. Better late than never… Many years ago I worked for a trainer at a racetrack,these were moderately good horses, many earned their keep. Exciting work, some lovely horses, interesting people. I quit because of some practices I found hurtful and of no proven good, the final break came when they legalized 2 yr old racing. It is WRONG to put babies through this, there is no “sport” in harming these wonderful creatures.

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MyHorse Daily Freemium Building Horse Barns

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