The Horseracing Industry wins by a nose (for now)

In the eternal battle of industry vs. regulators, the horseracing industry is employing a wily plan that just might save it from the final nail in the coffin a.k.a. federal oversight.

Ever since the unfortunate and very public death of the filly Eight Belles’ during the 2008 Kentucky derby, the horseracing industry has essentially been in a race to save its own life. With the clamoring of bewildered television viewers, animal activists, and opportunistic politicians to “do something” about the state of horseracing . Already barely scraping by with meager revenues and an ever dwindling fan base, new regulations and standards would almost certainly prove too costly, too time-consuming, and result in too boring a sport for the dying industry to bear.

So, in what could be described as a Hail Mary pass, the national thoroughbred racing association last month appointed ex-cabinet secretary Tommy Thompson to oversee the implementation of an industry-wide certification system for racetracks. In order to receive the certification, the tracks will need to demonstrate their ability to handle issues such as doping and humane treatment of horses (including retired horses). For the sake of the horseracing industry, and for the sake of the horses within the industry, I hope this works. As of now it seems to be a tenuous victory. Animal activists are still pushing hard for the feds to get involved, and no politician wants to be the one to turn his or her back on camera-friendly ponies.

What would happen if the feds clamped down on the racing business? Likely, many tracks would fail to bring in enough money to continue operations. And what happens when tracks and horse owners go out of business? What happens to all those horses (the activists care so much about) after they cease to serve a useful purpose? The answer, unfortunately, isn’t pretty. Let’s just say there isn’t a big market out there for ex-racehorses. As is so often the case, the more “good” these buttinskies try to do, the worse the results. Take for example, the laws banning humane slaughter of horses. The law, pushed forward by PETA-types is obviously intended to improve treatment of horses, but it has the exact opposite result. Sure, more owners make the effort to find “retirement” farms for lame horses, but even more owners end up having “accidents” on the farm. Ask any horse (that can talk) and I bet they’ll tell you they’d rather have poison injected into their neck than starve to death (or worse). For the sake of industry and the horses involved in it, I hope this last ditch effort to keep the feds out of racing is successful.