A Crucible of Greed: Santa Anita's Breeders' Cup Moment

This year’s Breeders’ Cup will be held at the most controversial venue in horse racing, Santa Anita Park.

Updated: Oct. 31, 2019 • 1:00 PM ET

Santa Anita Park will host this year's Breeders' Cup.

Here is the moment. As we speak, American horse racing stands on a great precipice — it’s truly at a crucible. To paraphrase those didactic tomes from the essence of “The Lord of the Rings,” "Stray but a little, and it will fail, to the ruin of all.”

On Friday, the annual meeting known as the Breeders' Cup will commence, two days of what has in the past been magnificent racing, despite some extremely pedestrian television coverage by NBC. A supposed all-star international cast will be on hand to race against what is perceived to be the best North America has to offer. This doesn't sound like anything astronomical nor controversial, but this has been no ordinary year for one of the country's oldest sports.

The real crux of it all is that this year, the Breeders' Cup is being held at Santa Anita Racetrack, a famous place with a great history that underwent massive scrutiny this spring when numerous horses had to be euthanized after competing in races or during training. A media frenzy ensued, which some pundits deemed good for the sport because it got everyone thinking and talking.

I’m not so sure about that point.

From my perspective, the talk has not led to anything substantive. In this situation, the old adage of immovable objects meeting unstoppable forces comes to mind. At this point, I still cannot see how this sport, in its current state, can be headed down a path that protects the unprotected — the horses.

What will the thoroughbred community do if, God forbid, a horse breaks down on the track at the Breeders' Cup? What will "they" be able to say? After all, the Stronach Group, which owns Santa Anita Park, wanted the spotlight to shine on them for this Breeders' Cup, and they got it.

Was it ego-maniacal, or a place with much to prove after so much pressure? We shall see.

It seems that greed continues to be more of a constant theme in this sport than the safety of the horses. That's a bold statement, and I’m sure I’ll hear guffaws across this land. But think on this, after all that has transpired in 2019, name one major change that has reshaped a sport that has watched its fan base evaporate at the expense of those that would profit for decades.

I cannot honestly say I know of one.

Have thoroughbred racing associations radically changed their practices? Have all of them opened their reporting on trackside deaths and made the data public?

I want to go even further — what is even more troubling is that horse racing as a collective really doesn’t understand the culture(s) that is/are shifting in America. Politics, economics and social positions all bombard the sport. Ironically as a nation, we’re still grappling with continued inequality, and that reflects in a sport that was once enjoyed by the masses.

Not anymore.

With much chagrin, I believe horse racing has remained stagnant, and though it has been on the cutting edge of certain technologies, it’s still a monolith. There will never again be a horse, a la Seabiscuit, that is more popular than a President.

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Most members of the general public simply don’t want to see or even hear about a horse collapsing on the track. They won’t stand for it. Detractors can proffer all the rebuttals they want by attacking the liberal media, but the fact remains that human and animal rights are headed toward a different stage.

Now more than ever, emotions are polarizing political issues and vice versa; whether its Hong Kong, Syria or Lexington, Ky. Social media has democratized opinions, and at key points those will not be torn asunder, even if it depends on the way the wind blows. Political correctness is now too trite a turn of phrase for the land we are in now. Violence and death in a post-9/11 era will not be tolerated, nor understood on the same terms as before.

Horse racing has painted itself into a very complicated corner — questions abound. Should Lasix be universally outlawed? When will racing finally get rid of the dreaded breakage system that robs punters of a percentage of their winnings? And, for that matter, when will we ever have a national central authority that governs racing?

All I can see, as the bathed in purple weekend approaches, is a horse racing future where racetracks are turned into apartments. We already lost some this year and someday soon, few will remain.

As for the horses, the most important prospect to cling to in this greed-induced system is that the humans that breed, saddle, train and race them will realize the world they have wrought.

The moment is here Santa Anita; a crucible is upon us. All we can do is hope.

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