I did not wake up this morning expecting to see that the FBI raided barns in New York and would be charging twenty-seven people (including vets and trainers) with illegally doping racehorses, but I also cannot say that I am surprised.
Anyone who follows horse racing closely knows that not everything that goes on behind the scenes is in the best interest of the horse. Yes, the majority of trainers and owners do love their horses and would do no wrong to them. But there are the select few that are blinded by greed and decide to do what no man should ever do to an animal - administer it performance-enhancing-drugs (PEDs).
Among the indicted are: Jason Servis, Jorge Navarro, Erica Garcia, Marcos Zulueta, Michael Tannuzo, Gregory Skelton, Ross Cohen, Seth Fishman, Lisa Giannelli, Jordan Fishman, Rick Dane Jr., Christopher Oakes, Kristian Rhein, Michael Kegley Jr., Alexander Cahn, Henry Argueta, Nicholas Surick, Rebcca Linke, and Christopher Marino.
Reading the press release that explained the drugs given to some of these horses made me sick to my stomach. While this has been a much anticipated and long awaited raid to those in the horse racing industry, this looks quite bad to the outside world.
This is good, but we must not rest. This is going to be a confusing time for our sport. We are better to have the bad people gone, but the release of this information could cast a bad light on this industry that is already trying to defend itself from the harsh criticism received because of the breakdowns at Santa Anita Park.
This is not just about how we as an industry feel. The hard truth is that public perception of horse racing matters. We must not let them get the wrong idea about our sport, as we have all seen the lengths “Animal Activists” have taken to have other animal sports and activities banned. How do we move forward from all that has plagued horse racing?
This “drug bust” proved that the industry is ready to move forward. The work of groups like the Thoroughbred Safety Coalition are furthering this with their new rules and reforms. The majority of people in this industry adore these horses and want nothing more for them than health and happiness.
I do not work directly with racehorses, so I will not comment much on drugs, crops, or existing injuries. However, I do believe that improving public perception is a huge part of the fight to keep our sport around.
We must reach the public with this information before they decide that it is time to ban horse racing altogether. These drug investigations will probably continue and the names of more trainers and vets will likely come up, so what can we do to show that this is a good thing for horse racing? We must take this terrible situation and show that it is good for our “new and improved” sport.
Now is the time for the industry to come together and prove that we are improving. We need to answer the public’s questions about our sport. The heart-warming stories are good and need to be shared, but they aren’t the only solution to this problem with public perception. Under every photo of a jockey hugging his mount after a race or a trainer planting a kiss on his horse’s nose is a comment that reads, “If you love them, why are they dying?”.
Those who work with horses of any breed know that death is not always preventable. Horses die in paddocks, stalls, arenas, and yes, on the racetrack. Not every breakdown is from pre-existing injury or doping. But some are.
So, we need to use the media to show that horse racing is not just what it seems:
* Commercials on major platforms that tell how our industry is improving (i.e. Thoroughbred Safety Coalition reforms & getting rid of people who dope horses), not just on TVG but on channels like ESPN and news networks.
* Social Media needs to be used to share this information as well, but these posts need to be “boosted” or “sponsored” so that they’re not just reaching horse racing’s current fans and followers.
* We need more segments on the good people in horse racing. The feel good stories that show just how much these horses are loved and respected.
In addition to answering the public’s questions, we still need to work to improve our marketing and engagement in general. We need more public events at the racetracks, more promotion surrounding big race days and big horses (not just the Kentucky Derby, but also for local races to draw people), and more hype surrounding the sport’s big horses. We need better coverage in general.
We need to continually work to draw new fans towards our sport while fending off the bad-press given to us by “animal rights organizations”. This is not going to be easy and the sport will not be fixed overnight. However, if we keep cleaning up our game from the inside out while aggressively marketing our sport, we can see big changes in the way that we are perceived.
Let’s continue to fight for change and do what’s right. This FBI investigation was just the beginning. There is much more work to be done.
Champions of the Track will be doing what we can to help in this fight. If you would like to speak with us about ideas or improvements, please send us an email at email@example.com or message us on one of our social media platforms. We would love to chat with anyone about improving this sport.