We have all been there. You are sent to the principals office, or a report card comes in the mail. You come home with a detention slip that needs to be signed, or hell, make that one phone call from jail.
And while your mother runs around in a fit, yelling and screaming about why, and how, and for God’s sakes – with whom, you committed this crime with, your father sits quietly at the kitchen table with a poker face only previously seen on ESPN.
He waits. Patiently and calmly, chewing on the words that he is about to use towards you as weapons. And his calm demeanor and thoughtful debate are what scare you the most. You know the dreaded words that are coming.
“I’m disappointed in you.”
These words will cause so much more pain than anything the police, the principal, or your AP Biology teacher could ever have thrown at you. Because at the root of it all is the fact that he loves you. And his quiet disappointment will trump whatever threats, rage, or retaliation that any other force can throw.
That is how I feel about horse racing.
I love the thoroughbred horse. I love every single aspect of its life. The minuscule differences between stallions, and the selection of matings. The science behind breeding the mare, and watching embryogenesis take place. The trials and tribulations of delivering the foals into the world. The nutrition and exercise physiology behind sales prep and breaking. And finally, I love watching the power, endurance, and heart of these horses as they gallop around a well engineered track.
So much goes into this. So much time. So much thought. So much research. So much love.
I showed up in 2008 as an outsider. Traveling to the bluegrass by way of Pennsylvania, Wyoming, and then college in New York, I had never even stepped foot onto a racetrack until moving to Lexington, Kentucky to follow a boy. And yet within only one year with backstage access, I was hooked.
The boy was dumped. And I was immersed.
And for the past decade I have watched as my passion for this sport ebbs and flows, finding both extreme excitement in the highest of peaks, like in the journey of American Pharoah, followed by the greatest frustration in, well, so many other things.
And I have written about this journey on this blog, A Yankee in Paris.
Someone once called my blog “Thoroughbred-centric” and I loved that description. I want to be a middle man; a bridge. I want to let the horse enthusiast get a birdseye view of the backstage pass that I was given so many years ago. Let them witness the amount of time, dedication, commitment, and most importantly love, that goes into producing these racehorses.
I also want to let the racing industry see the ability, heart, and reward that goes into retiring these horses sound and allowing them to transition into second careers successfully. Let them see the pride and joy that goes into their horses first jump, first trail ride, and first show. The bond that is built between their horse and its new person.
And I want to let the complete outsider, such as 99% of my high school graduating class – and my entire family – see just how amazing these animals are overall.
And that is when I get frustrated.
Just yesterday, I posted on my blog’s Facebook page that the main character in one of my previous stories was entered in his first race. Buddy had a tumultuous start into this world, as his mother prolapsed and bled out immediately after delivering him. And I had used her story to explain to those horse enthusiasts exactly why and when we as industry members choose to use nurse mares.
Since starting this blog, I have learned that those same horse enthusiasts who share the stories of these foals can be brought into the folds. Because they will choose to follow racing for exactly this reason: an affinity to that specific horse. And I have tried to use this fact to bring them into this world that we all love.
I knew they loved Buddy. I also knew that they would love to hear that he was now named Walk Tiz Way, and that he would be breaking from the gates for the first time on this day. So I posted of this, hoping to lure them in.
But then I was bombarded by questions. When was the race? Where could they watch it? What were his chances? Who owned him? Was he safe?
And I tried to respond. I pulled out my trusty apps and snazzy websites, only to realize just how little I could provide. Horse Races Now said that the post time was 4:10, but Equibase said 3:10. Neither provided which time zone they were providing the times for, and neither offered any other information – such as which channel would be providing the race.
I clicked on TVG, and saw that they did in fact have the 5th race at The Fairgrounds on their countdown, and hurried to tell those who were intrigued. And then we watched the post time draw nearer while messaging each other on social media with anticipation. 10 minutes. Then 6. 2. And finally post time.
And then TVG switched. To the 6th at Aqueduct.
My readers typed in rapid rage, wondering where Buddy was, and why we couldn’t see the race. And I rushed to text his exercise rider, asking for updates that I could at least provide to them.
Buddy didn’t run well, but maybe more importantly, we left a handful of people with a bitter taste in their mouth. Women and men who could have possibly learned to love the sport were left feeling as though it was just as impossible as they had thought to get involved in the game.
And I didn’t have any response that would convince them of otherwise.
I turned to my social media to voice these frustrations, only to realize two things: 1) this was a common occurrence, even for industry insiders, and 2) there were solutions to these problems, but you better hope to be an industry insider to have access to them.
I learned that I should have opened an Xpressbet account to stream the race on my cellphone. But really? I was sitting on my couch in front of a 45″ television, and I was to assume that I had to watch it on my 12″ laptop or 4″ cellphone. And in addition to this – I was to tell all of these people that they too would need to download an app when they already had the television in front of them – a television that had not one, but two, channels just for horse racing.
I learned that Horse Races Now provided post times in EST, while Equibase provided post times in the time zone where the racetrack is located, which again, would only be found by a google search. And I was supposed to reason this to the readers as well, further complicating their desire to learn, as most didn’t even know where The Fairgrounds was located.
I learned that TVG commonly had a race on their countdown only to switch to another race, and that most people chose to go the route of streaming – either via Horse Races Now or Xpressbet – which is great…if you have access to high speed internet, and don’t mind the lag time that either may provide.
And what bothered me the most was the fact that I felt falsely advertised to. Had TVG never had the race on its list, I would have had 15 minutes to find another route to watch – most likely through one of these other avenues. But instead, I thought that my race was set to watch…until it was too late for another avenue to be pursued.
And sadly, I also learned that many industry insiders were quick to make an excuse for a problem in the industry, instead of admitting the problem existed.
And that is where the parent in me comes out.
I love racing. But just because I love something doesn’t mean that it can’t make mistakes, and that it can’t do better.
Horse racing needs to keep improving. On so many levels. From a welfare perspective, from a level playing field for gamblers, and from a marketing standpoint. I have written before just how frustrating it is to defend an industry that doesn’t seem to want to defend itself, and I still stand by that.
And I acknowledge that we have already changed so much, and these changes are exactly what have kept me involved.
Our aftercare for these horses is immense, and growing every day. Mass Spectrometry is finally being utilized; providing for quantitative drug testing. The economy is growing, causing the sales to be profitable. And the industry is finally opening their doors to any person who wants to walk through them through Horse Country.
But that isn’t enough. We can’t rest on our laurels. And we need to change so much more.
We need a sport that is easily to follow, easy to attract, and easy to hold on to. We need an industry that not only lures people into its stone walls and iron gates, but with a clicker to actually open them. And then once they are in, we need to hold onto them with all of our strength.
Some of these changes are simple, some are not. But if we want this industry to actually obtain the fan following that we desire, they need to happen. I want my mom to be able to have access to every foal that I have ever pulled into this world, without getting frustrated by simple things such as a time zone. I want the readers of this blog to be able to watch the horses that they have learned to love through these stories with ease, such as Bode, Hit Girl, and now Buddy, without becoming unenamored because of an ability to watch.
And I want this sport to be the sport that can handle a loving member of its family tell them that they’re disappointed, and instead of asking for an emancipation from that angered guardian, admit fault. Go to detention. Learn from its mistakes, and move on.