Yes, PETA has an agenda. Yes, the 9 minute video below probably represents the "best" of the worst the PETA investigation had on tape. However, it is difficult to spin what is on the video just because of the PETA agenda. Those with agendas, whether it is an animal's rights group or 60 Minutes, may be driven to find nasty stuff and paint the nastiest picture possible, whether they are investigating horse racing or the auto industry, but generally where there is smoke, there is fire. And exposing the fire, can affect change.
I don't think anyone in the industry who attacks the messenger (PETA) is doing themselves or the industry any good. Apologists are a big part of the reason the industry is struggling so much these days, and why a drug culture is pervasive in the backstretch.
The PETA video that may initiate a fundamental positive change in the racing industry:
The only thing I learnt new on the video was that buzzers are probably more widespread than I imagined. I remember Shane Sellers admitting to using buzzers (in a biography I think), and he was quickly admonished by industry insiders as a bad person with plenty of demons who shouldn't be taken seriously. It is hard to watch Gary Stevens and D. Wayne Lucas joke about their knowledge of buzzers and not believe that this a something widespread.
Really, the only things that are illegal on the video is the bit about buzzers, and the forging of illegal immigrant's documents. The other gray area issue is the idea of tricking the vet to get a sore horse passed to race. I realize that some horses are sore one day and OK the next, and sometimes are sore in the morning but get out of it by race time, but if the intention is to put one over on the vet so that a known sore horse has a chance to be claimed, well that is dangerous for the jockeys and even horses in the race, as well as a complete screwing of the betting public.
As for the treatment of horse's in the video. Unfortunately, as stated earlier, the drug culture is accepted in the backstretch, and I don't see anything illegal being done. It is though an admission that drugs, not needed to treat the conditions the drugs were meant to treat, are used regularly as performance enhancers. Although masking wasn't touched upon, all you have to do is look at how many times Super Trainers have got slaps on the wrist to know that between trainers and vets they are playing Jr. chemists.
It isn't a surprise that horses get a regimen of drugs that wouldn't be prescribed by a vet if they were not racing. Especially when it comes to trainers that have multiple outfits throughout the US and Canada. I've heard of situations where the program trainer (usually a high percentage trainer) doesn't actually show up in person at certain tracks for months at a time. As a Horseplayer, I look at it like this: There are only so many ways to train a horse so one trainer shouldn't be that much greater than the next unless they are really in tune with their horses on a day to day basis....or they have some really decent concoctions and a regimen that just about anyone can follow. Does a high percentage trainer have the ability to find phenomenal prospects (assistant trainers and grooms) at just about every track they have an outfit? I'm not that much of a dummy to believe that assistant trainers should have that much of an edge over trainers who have just one operation at one track. But I factor this into my handicapping. I wish I didn't have to deal with it. I have very little confidence when betting on a race with a Super Trainer in it, as I'm usually playing a perceived overlay, that really isn't an overlay.
Shock therapy on horses is permissible as long as it done a certain time before a race. Tapping a horse is a necessary evil to get a horse back into a race. I knew this already. But watching the video brings me back to thinking, why doesn't the betting public know when a horse was last tapped, or when shock therapy or when a horse last visited a hyperbaric oxygen chamber? From a Horseplayer's viewpoint, why should a trainer, the vet, and/or some backstretch help be privy to this information, especially if they have the ability to wager?
I also wonder why horses today have so many less starts, both per year and per career, than they did a few decades ago? I have to think it can only be two things (and likely a combination): A weaker breed due to owners wanting and getting quicker returns, and use of drugs (which could both drain horses and also be partly responsible for a weaker breed).
I realize getting rid of the accepted drug culture cannot happen overnight, nor will we see horses only running on hay and oats any time soon, but in the meantime, measures have to be done. Reducing allowable drugs to a number less than 10 is a must (see Alternative Ways To Train A Race Horse). This includes banning many supplements. What is the difference of giving a horse EPO or DPO or finding a natural supplement that will have the same affect? Apparently, they are out there and are easily attainable.
Second, there has to be heavy fines, even potential jail sentences when it comes to using drugs or supplements that are not on the accepted list. No more slaps on the wrists.
Finally, Horseplayers deserve to know of any major procedures (including tapping, operations, and even hyperbaric oxygen chamber visits). This should be reported right away by the trainer and then put into the past performances when applicable. It isn't a bad idea to put the vet on the PPs as well next to the trainer's name.
I'm not sure if cleaning up the backstretch mentality will lead to new Horseplayers. It will instill more confidence in existing ones though, but no matter how much is done, the average Horseplayer loses too much too fast due to sky high track takeout, and that also needs to be addressed if horse racing is to actually grow.
Maybe the fact that a clean up by itself probably won't grow the game is the reason why nothing seems to change when it comes the drug culture and transparency for Horseplayers.
The PETA video though creates the possibility of instilling less confidence in current Horseplayers and it also could be used as fuel to reduce or even take away alternative gaming subsidies as well. The latter may scare Horsemen groups and racetracks to go faster than a snail this time around when it comes to drug reform, and stop making excuses and stop shooting the messenger.
HorsePlayerNow has a quick survey on the PETA study and Horseplayers, check it out.