Friday, November 27, 2009

Thank heaven, no co-horses of the year

It's been more than a week since I've blogged. Life has jumped up and bitten me more than once in the past few days, and focusing on this aspect of my routine has simply suffered.

Thankfully a bit of racing news has at least prompted me to offer my own spin on an issue.

I think it's great that two out of three groups which vote on the Eclipse Awards have rejected the notion of changing the rules to allow co-horses of the year; namely Rachel Alexandra and Zenyatta.

It isn't that both females aren't deserving; they are. But while there are photo-finishes, in a manner of speaking, in the Eclipse voting, there should be no dead-heats. Somebody must be declared the winner.

For my money, that female remains Rachel Alexandra. I was thoroughly impressed with Zenyatta's historic win (the first for a female) in the Breeders' Cup Classic. But let's face it, that race was her only real challenge this year. She raced an entire season without leaving California's artificial surfaces.

Meanwhile -- though she and her connections are sometimes maligned -- Rachel Alexandra overcame a barn change (with her sale by breeder and original owner Dolphus Morrison to Jess Jackson, et. al.) to stage her own undefeated season. She crushed 3-year-old fillies in the Kentucky Oaks and the Mother Goose. She became the first filly to win the Preakness since Nellie Morse in 1924, and backed up that win against her age-group of colts and geldings with a victory in the Haskell. Then she became the first female ever to win the Woodward Stakes, that against older males.

This season Rachel won stakes races at: Oaklawn Park (Martha Washington S., Fantasy S.-G2); Fair Grounds (Fair Grounds Oaks-G2); Churchill Downs (Kentucky Oaks-G1); Pimlico (Preakness S.-G1 vs. males); Belmont Park (Mother Goose S.-G1); Monmouth Park (Haskell Invitational-G1 vs. males); and Saratoga (Woodward S.-G1 vs. older males).

She might have ducked Zenyatta and the "plastic" tracks in California on Breeders' Cup weekend, but during the campaign she won on fast strips and in the mud, over seven tracks in six states. Meanwhile, Zenyatta -- special though she is -- ducked everything, everywhere except Southern California and one fine field of older males that came to her back yard to race.

I'm not saying Rachel will win horse of the year. Zenyatta easily could, especially by making the last impression with her splendid win in the Classic.

But regardless which fine female takes the honors, at least we won't have the cop-out result of a draw.

Friday, November 20, 2009

Fitting end for Bobby Frankel

In what has been a week of crushing news, a ray of joy glimmers. And a little irony shines down with it.

The late Bobby Frankel went out a winner. And in a twist on the longtime conditioner's old nickname, the winning filly was bought from the race by new connections.

Life by R R, the last horse ever entered in the name of Hall of Fame trainer Robert J. Frankel -- who died Monday of leukemia -- took the field gate-to-wire on Wednesday under Alex Solis in a race at Hollywood Park. She was saddled and officially ran under the name of Frankel's assistant trainer, Humberto Ascanio, but entries for the race were due on Sunday, the day before Frankel died, so Frankel's name was originally on the entry.

A 68-year-old Brooklyn native, Frankel early in his career earned the nickname "King of the Claimers" for his ability to improve on horses picked up on the claim. And his last entrant, Life by R R, a 3-year-old filly by Domestic Dispute, was claimed herself from her victorious race; trainer Doug O'Neill bought her for a partnership at a tag of $25,000.

It's outcomes like this that make me believe those folks who say that everything happens for a reason. I suppose you can look at any occurrence, roll it around in your mind, and come up with additional meanings not visible on the surface and perhaps only attached to that happening because you thought hard enough to make it so.

But then that's sort of what life's all about, isn't it? Taking what has been, thinking it over really well, considering its lessons or message, and fitting it into the puzzle of what will become.

Bobby Frankel started at the bottom and worked his way to the top. He deserved to go out a winner. And it is most fitting that victory came with a horse running for a tag; the last one entered by the late King of the Claimers.

Long live the king.

Tuesday, November 17, 2009

Taken from my hands, left in Bobby's?

No offense to his family and friends -- or to humankind -- but I will always remember the day that Hall of Fame trainer Bobby Frankel died, Nov. 16, 2009, as the day my first baby in this hard business met her own untimely demise.

I shared on this blog earlier in the week that Oracle at Delphi (Mighty Forum-Bushes Victory, by Spartan Victory) broke the humerus in her left front by crashing through a fence in a panic Sunday night, spooked by a falling tree. Another filly followed her through and was injured, but by reports I've received, should recover well.

Born March 30, Oracle at Delphi, the splendid chestnut filly with a huge blaze and three white socks eerily reminiscent of her great-great-grandsire Secretariat, didn't make it to eight months of age. She lived through the night Sunday, but X-rays in the morning revealed no hope of recovery.

And I'm not 100 percent certain that the full measure of that truth has yet sunk in.

I don't get to Gordonsville, Va., all that often to see the horses. I'd "met" Delphy twice and thought she was exceptional -- though admittedly, as her co-breeder, I was biased. Still, a trainer friend of mine, from photos I sent him, said the girl was well-balanced and had the right look for her age. She had a nice engine and appeared to be one that someday, I told myself, might really motor.

But in her short time on earth, as almost-perfect as she appeared, Delphy had her share of issues.

She first came down with the snots. Aggressive treatment took care of the issue. But when it's your horse and your money, there's no such thing as a "minor" ailment in a young foal.

Then Delphy suffered a pasture accident of some sort in which she bloodied her muzzle and cracked a small bone in her nose. Careful monitoring and a few weeks without her halter for comfort and healing led to a full recovery.

Now this.

In hindsight, maybe Delphy's was just a life not meant to be. Or meant to be for long.

I'm left to try and rationalize why fate chose her to take so soon, though of course there's no reason behind determining the victims in matters of fatal chance.

And I'm left to console myself with memories and frivolous thoughts, like speculating that Delphy must have been fast; after all, in a panicked rush of horseflesh, she was the first foal to hit the fence.

Condolences have flooded in, from friends, family, horse-business contacts and readers of this blog. Each and every kind word has been appreciated. True to the nature of horse-lovers, myself included, some of the seemingly most offbeat comments offer the truest comfort.

And this is where one Robert J. Frankel re-enters our story.

A member of a horse racing message board in which I participate, known as BigHorse2 at Yahoo Groups, passed along this thought, typed-up, she admitted, through a stream of her own tears.

"Maybe Bobby went to train Delphy."

My filly should be so lucky up in Heaven. She's due.

Monday, November 16, 2009

Rest in peace, win in heaven, Bobby Frankel

News is just breaking of the death of Bobby Frankel, a victim of leukemia at age 68, but it's fitting to pause amid an already tough Monday morning for me and offer condolences to his friends and family.

Born Robert J. Frankel in Brooklyn, July 9, 1941, he went on to train more than 3,500 winners, including Breeders' Cup Classic-winning Horse of the Year Ghostzapper.

Frankel also conditioned Breeders' Cup Sprint champion Squirtle Squirt, Breeders' Cup Filly & Mare Turf champion Starine, Belmont Stakes winner Empire Maker, two-time Pacific Classic winner Skimming, two-time Santa Anita Handicap winner Milwaukee Brew, and many other top thoroughbreds for well-known owners such as Edmund Gann.

Racing has lost a hall-of-famer; someone who clearly loved and lived for the game.

Rest in peace, Robert.

Sunday, November 15, 2009

Danger at every turn, long before they race

No e-mail subject line could be worse, especially coming from your boarding farm owner and partner on a horse.

"CALL ME 911!"

Sarah Warmack, owner of Hilltop Farm VA, had the displeasure Sunday evening of informing me that the 2009 filly we co-bred, Oracle at Delphi (Mighty Forum-Bushes Victory, by Spartan Victory), has likely broken her leg. "Delphy," as she's known around the barn, spooked when a tree fell on the rain-soaked property and she crashed into the fence. We'll know in the morning whether she'll have a chance at a full recovery or if euthanasia is required.

Sarah will spend the night in the barn. I routinely thank Heaven for her.

I will be talking a lot to Heaven in the coming hours.

And if anyone needs evidence for why buying at the 2-year-old sales is so increasingly popular vs. breeding your own to race -- especially since right now horses are practically being stolen at auction, considering the costs that went into them -- just save this post.

Update 9:30 a.m. Nov. 16: As she suffered a broken humerus, with heavy hearts no choice remains but to put the beautiful filly down. Rest in peace, baby girl. You leave us too soon, and forever wondering what might have been.

Wednesday, November 11, 2009

If I booked Zenyatta's first date

Now that Zenyatta has stated her case for Horse of the Year with her exhilarating victory in Saturday's Breeders' Cup Classic, thoughts turn to the breeding shed.

While it might be nice to see the fabulous 5-year-old Street Cry mare take a shot at breaking Cigar's North American record of 16 wins in a row -- she's presently 14-for-14 lifetime, of course -- the likelihood of her ever racing again is practically zero. So, now to speculate on who that breeding date for Zenyatta might be.

Maybe it's too conventional in thinking, but I would first consider Giant's Causeway.

Zenyatta carries no Northern Dancer, so adding some over a Mr. Prospector-line mare is hard to quibble with. The cross does offer 4x4 inbreeding to Roberto and 5x5 Halo, which adds up to a linebreeding of 6S x 5S x 6D x 5D Hail to Reason.

Giant's Causeway at this writing is No. 4 all-time in progeny earnings on synthetic surfaces (one notch behind Street Cry), which should make Zenyatta's connections of owner Jerry Moss and trainer John Shirreffs happy, since they're based in California where all the major tracks are mandated to have all-weather surfaces instead of conventional dirt. But Giant's Causeway can get any sort of horse. He has multiple G1 progeny winners on dirt, turf and synthetics.

What's not to like?

Another consideration for Zenyatta, in my estimation, is to avoid the chance of adding too much size to her prospective foals. Zenyatta is as big a mare as you'll find; she stands more than 17 hands high. Sending her to a whopper of a stallion could result in babies who are so big they can't move fast enough to get out of their own way. Or that can't stay sound. Despite Zen's clearly overcoming the "too-much-size" pitfalls (perhaps in part because of masterful management by Shirreffs, who only raced her 14 times in a three-year career), it's my belief that an average-sized or even smaller horse is generally better both for athleticism and soundness.

Giant's Causeway has good size, but at 16.1 hands he isn't a monster.

In a few pedigree discussion groups, I've witnessed other recommendations for Zenyatta. One person suggested Hard Spun, who I like on pedigree. But if Zen were my mare and I were breeding to keep and race the foals -- as Moss likely will be -- then I wouldn't choose a stallion whose first runners are yet to prove themselves.

It would be easy enough to make cases for plenty of other top stallions, and for two more top choices, I would look to Awesome Again and big-splash youngster Medaglia D'Oro, the latter of whom is sire of Zenyatta's off-track (but never on-track) rival, splendid filly Rachel Alexandra.

But my top pick would be Giant's Causeway -- performance plus all-surface versatility.

Have ideas of your own? Please detail them in the comments section below.

Saturday, November 7, 2009

Win the Classic, win Horse of the Year? No, not Zenyatta, but Summer Bird

As I fill in on the sports desk this weekend, I get to watch the Breeders' Cup from work.

And ABC's piece on Summer Bird seconds ago leaves me wondering -- could the 3-year-old colt upset both Zenyatta today and Rachel Alexandra for Horse of the Year by winning this afternoon's Breeders' Cup Classic?

Honestly, I don't think he'll win the race. I like Einstein at a bit of a price, Zenyatta is a SoCal monster who must be reckoned with even amongst males, and Rip Van Winkle is probably Europe's best bet.

But if Summer Bird could take the race, he would have quite a quartet of Grade 1 victories to his name: The Belmont Stakes, the Travers Stakes, the Jockey Club Gold Cup, and the race of the year, the B.C. Classic.

You at least could make the case.

Friday, November 6, 2009

Fatal error of the day: 'I might like Man of Iron'

That's what I told myself when filling out my Darby Dan contest bracket. "I might like Man of Iron."

Then I decided I didn't. Not enough. So my Marathon entry had the beaten favorite, Mastery, and no-shows Nite Light and Gangbuster.

Cloudy's Knight was on my radar, too. But ageism got the better of me and I left out the 9-year-old, too.

Shows what I know.

Congrats to the connections of both winner Man of Iron and of Cloudy's Knight, who ran a winning race under Rosemary Homeister Even if Rosemary was, according to Caton Bredar, cussing her luck after the race.

Zenyatta: Root for, but bet against in Classic?

Less than 36 hours from now, we'll have no more questions about one of the greatest race mares of the last 20 years.

Zenyatta -- champion older female in 2008 and an unbeaten 13-for-13 against females -- has been entered in the Breeders' Cup Classic against the opposite gender.

It isn't just the step-up to facing males that is a question mark for the 5-year-old Street Cry mare. Zenyatta also never has raced the 10-furlong distance of the Classic.

Both of those unknowns -- plus her being favored on the morning line at 5/2 and, I believe, not likely to drift a lot higher -- lead me to figure that Zenyatta is a bet-against in this race.

After all, the talented mare has not been quite as dominating against her own gender in four races of 2009 (best Equibase speed figure a 116, six points below her career high). And now she tackles a field of 12 boys and men with their own distinguished list of accomplishments.

Eight of Zenyatta's male Classic opponents have won at 10 furlongs, a total of 12 times. Most notable are Gio Ponti (3-for-4 lifetime at the distance) and Summer Bird (2-for-3).

Three of the horses have victories over Santa Anita's all-weather strip, paced by Colonel John, who has won half of his six lifetime starts on that track and just missed a Grade 1 victory by a neck in the Goodwood there on Oct. 10.

Zenyatta is a California-circuit all-weather-track specialist, but despite a field peppered with East Coast-shippers, foreign invaders and turf horses hoping for crossover success, half of her opponents (including Gio Ponti) do have synthetic track victories to their credit.

And while the older males will carry 126 pounds and the mare does get a weight break for gender (123 pounds), the impost on the several talented 3-year-old colts and geldings in the group is even lower, at 122.

This isn't to say that Zenyatta has no strengths. She isn't favored without cause.

Beyond her unblemished lifetime mark, she is 4-for-4 over the track at Santa Anita, has the highest career all-weather speed figure per Equibase (122), and a jockey in Mike Smith who both knows her and knows Santa Anita (51 percent W-P-S during the meeting, third-best in the field among riders).

There's every reason to believe that a Street Cry mare out of a dam by Kris S. should be able to get 10 furlongs.

And she has been handled masterfully, but carefully, by trainer John Shirreffs, whom I doubt would cast her in this role if he didn't think she could handle it. ... I particularly like that Shirreffs has worked her at 6 furlongs four times in a row prepping for the added distance; she's the only horse in the field to have worked 6f more than once in the past few months and of the others, only two have drilled longer than 5f at all.

So if Zenyatta has all that going for her and is still a bet-against, for whom would I wager? Which one of these dozen males is going to beat her?

It's a tough call, but I'm leaning toward the 7-year-old veteran, Einstein, and I love the morning-line odds of 12/1.

Einstein is a battle-hardened competitor with G1 wins on both turf and synthetic. The Helen Pitts trainee is the only other horse in the field with a 120 or higher Equibase speed figure on an all-weather track, and he earned that 120 in winning the Santa Anita Handicap in March -- going this distance, over this track.

He's fallen off the radar a bit, but with only a bit of better racing luck, he wouldn't have.

Were it not for a trip in which, per the charts, he "bobbled," was checked, and was bumped, perhaps Einstein wins the Stephen Foster Handicap at Churchill Downs on June 13 to become only the second horse (the other being Lava Man) to have G1 wins on all three racing surfaces. Instead, he loses by a length to Macho Again and by a nose to Asiatic Boy (neither in this Classic field), finishing third.

Coming off a poor effort in the Arlington Million on grass (won by Gio Ponti with Einstein fifth beaten 8 1/2 lengths), Einstein came back to miss by only a neck to Richard's Kid (also in the B.C. Classic field) in the Pacific Classic at Del Mar, another G1 on synthetic.

Pitts has Einstein working well. An Oct. 11 four-furlong move at Churchill was done in a less-than-scintillating 49 seconds, but the times were slow that day and he was still fifth of 58 at the distance. Same story on Oct. 18 when a 1:01 for 5f was still second of 60. And, he's since followed up with a bullet 59.8 for 5f (best of 54 at CD on Oct. 25), plus a Santa Anita work of 47.80 for 4f (6 of 45).

I think Einstein could be sitting on a big race, and that could make him the man to take down Zenyatta.

Others certainly have a chance.

Irishman Rip Van Winkle is quite talented, with several losses to certain European champ Sea the Stars, but how will the 3-year-old Euro turf horse handle older males and females, a U.S. synthetic track, and the ship all the way to California?

Colonel John can win at SA (3-for-6) and win at 10f (1-for-4). Richard's Kid is coming in off a G1 all-weather win at this distance two starts back and a career-high Equibase figure in the Goodwood last out. Gio Ponti relishes 10f but his synthetic speed figures are a notch below his brilliance on grass. Summer Bird, Quality Road and Mine That Bird all are talented, G1 winners, but as 3-year-olds can they best their elders?

Looking for a long-shot, particularly to fill out the exotics? Awesome Gem at 30/1 on the outside is 8-for-12 lifetime win/place/show on synthetics and 20-for-30 on the board overall, is coming in off a G2 dirt win in the Hawthorne Gold Cup, and has a career-best all-weather speed figure of 116 -- better than Gio Ponti (114) and Mine That Bird (114) and only two clicks slower than Richard's Kid, all of whom are at 12/1.

This year's Breeders' Cup Classic certainly is an intriguing race.

Shirreffs and owners Jerry and Ann Moss are taking a big chance with Zenyatta, risking her unbeaten lifetime record to race a new distance and against males, presumably in a gambit to dethrone likely favorite Rachel Alexandra as Horse of the Year.

I'm definitely not rooting against Zenyatta in her quest. But at 5/2, I just don't like the odds.

Wednesday, November 4, 2009

Setting my alarm on the Darby Dan challenge

Some of the coolest contests in the horse racing industry of late have been the Darby Dan Fantasy Stakes.

Darby Dan Farm -- which stands a slate of stallions including Perfect Soul, Magna Graduate, Repriced, Sun King and Suave -- on a couple of prior occasions has hosted these online contests in which "Darby dollars" are spent to create a competition stable for a given race or races. In this case, for the races of Breeders' Cup weekend. The horses you choose score points for you based on their finish.

There are cash prizes, but the grand prize winner is rewarded with a complimentary season to one of the Darby Dan stallions, valued at up to $15,000.

I really enjoy playing Darby Dan's contests, and others, such as Road to the Roses, "the official fantasy game of the Kentucky Derby."

But, being a busy (and sometimes forgetful) sort, I also have an unsettling habit of neglecting to finalize my entry or set my roster of runners for a given week.

This time, I've plugged in a warning alarm on my cell phone. I don't want to pick my stable too early for Darby Dan's Breeders' Cup challenge; there could be scratches, or other news that causes me to rethink my entry. So I really do want to enter at the last minute, so to speak, much like I end up placing my bets on those rare visits to the track.

At noon on Friday -- the deadline is 3 p.m. Eastern -- I'm going to take a break from whatever it is I might be doing and fill out my stable.

Because even though the contest is a lot of fun, without that alarm, I just might forget. And I'm always kicking myself when I realize that I've missed a deadline just 15 minutes or a half-hour after I've missed it.

Tuesday, November 3, 2009

Pennsylvania Takeout: The Garbage

Most sports industries have to battle conflicting interests of the parties involved.

Ownership and management, the athletes, the league and spectators all have a stake in a sport such as, say, the National Football League. Operating a sports franchise and a league of franchises is a delicate balancing act of trying to run a well-organized operation that pleases fans well enough to rake in the cash for owners and athletes.

A post on Monday at the Horseplayers Association of North America blog illustrates that it's possible that nobody does it worse than horse racing.

HANA points out that an Allentown Morning Call story credits slots at Pennsylvania tracks with saving the state's horse racing industry. It's a fair claim. Once struggling to stay in business, Pennsylvania tracks have not only stabilized, but flourished and, with the addition of Presque Isle Downs, expanded in number. Purses have ballooned by roughly 400 percent and rival any state's racing programs.

All of this is excellent news for the tracks, for the state which collects considerable revenues for its budget, and for horsemen, who can come a lot closer to making a good living (or at least breaking even) in a business where losing money on a horse is a very real prospect every time you breed or buy one to race.

But HANA notes that Pennsylvania is screwing over its horseplayers (my term, not theirs), and horseplayers are letting them know it by withholding their wagering dollars.

HANA notes that total handle in Pennsylvania has declined by 15.3 percent between 2006 and 2008. That's because the takeout is so high -- 35 percent, HANA reports as an example, on tri- and superfecta wagers on harness racing at Pocono Downs. Which, HANA says, swallows up more of the financial pie, leaving less for the gamblers, than even the Massachusetts state lottery.

As a result, on HANA's 2009 rankings of 72 North American thoroughbred racetracks for their friendliness to horseplayers, Penn National ranks 43rd, Philly Park finishes in 63rd, and Presque Isle is 68th.

Now, losing $100 million in handle between 2006 and 2008 would more than alarm everyone involved if it weren't for all the money from slots to make up for it. So while it can be argued that slots at the racetrack are beneficial, they also can mask very real inadequacies or inefficiencies in the overall operation.

No reasonable business owner would sit idle while revenues shrank so dramatically in so short a time. He would determine what was necessary to bring his customers back through the doors and spending at least the kind of money they used to spend, if not more.

Now, it might be a stretch to expect politicians to be reasonable. And I suspect that track management is just so happy to be back on the positive side of the ledger that its executives aren't losing sleep over shrinking handle. Yet.

But anyone who stops for even a moment to consider these numbers can see that the takeout is killing handle. More and more over time. And anyone with business sense ought to reach the conclusion that a reduced takeout (easily made possible by those same slot revenues that provide so much revenue) would allow handle to grow again.

Talk about your diminishing returns: Pennsylvania is taking so much out of horse racing wagers that horseplayers have reduced their wagering, resulting in less revenue realized for the state than if Pennsylvania were to take out a more reasonable share.

If I were a politician in Pennsylvania, I'd much rather see the state take out half as much from a handle that is twice as much. The net revenues to the state would be the same, while the horse racing business within the state would be thriving more than ever, increasing revenues collected by the state in the form of sales tax at the track, property tax from increased investment and value in horse farms and racetracks, and income tax from all of the industry's employees and principals. That includes horseplayers, who would bet more, win more, and pay more tax on those winnings.

But the current takeout in Pennsylvania, as HANA shows, is garbage.

Sunday, November 1, 2009

Standing to be counted is aided by a backbone

I have criticized New York Times reporter Joe Drape on more than one occasion for writing that "many veterinarians" agree with his stories' claims that "lax oversight" of medication rules and an overuse of even legal medications are significant factors in the mortality rate of racehorses in the United States.

I am troubled that Drape -- in my reading -- has neither quantified nor identified those "many veterinarians."

And I'm not backing down from that criticism. Names attached to claims always add weight to the opinions offered.

But this denunciation of my position, left beneath Friday's blog post about another story of Drape's, merits deeper inspection. Because while it is intended as a defense of Drape, a criticism of me, and a suggestion that Drape's reporting is accurate -- and it serves as all of those things -- the fact that it was left anonymously tells us even more:

I am one of Joe Drape's anonymous sources, a practicing racetrack veterinarian, who has spent probably 5 hours conversing with Mr. Drape about racing medication issues.
I can assure you that I will continue to insist on anonymity until this subject becomes a less combustible issue, as your unwarranted attacks on Mr. Drape's journalism prove.

That might be one to make me chuckle if the person wasn't serious. Namely the suggestion that my calls for higher journalistic standards and transparency on the subject matter are an "unwarranted" criticism, perhaps even a threat to people of good conscience.

I give remarkably little weight to anonymous critics. I'm very certain that sentiment isn't one held by me alone. The powers that be in any endeavor -- certainly in an industry like horse racing, with deep traditions and a rigid underlying culture, aspects of which do need changing -- are far less likely to be swayed by muffled voices emanating from the darkest corner of the room.

It isn't that anonymous sources or whistle-blowers have never provided necessary information that exposed serious issues and initiated change. They have and they will continue to do so. Anonymity is particularly worth seeking -- and, as a journalist, protecting -- if the source's life is on the line. Like a mob informant.

But I assure you, if you really want to make a difference -- particularly on issues of life and death for others who have no power to speak for themselves and in a field in which you claim documented education and expertise -- the fastest way to start is by growing a spine.

The New York Times' allegedly increasing list of "many veterinarians," few or none of whom I guess will go on-record with their names, does not amount to list of "many veterinarians" in any way. They all might as well be figments of our collective imagination.

In fact, I would respect Drape's reporting on this issue more if he actually phrased his claim as such: "Veterinarians who have voiced their concerns to the Times anonymously due to the volatility of this issue believe ... ."

But that never seems to be what he writes. His language suggests that there's some obvious or documented groundswell of sentiment among the veterinary community; a groundswell that is never really pinpointed. A movement that perhaps can't be quantified because its participants won't stand to be counted.

Certainly the issue of drugs -- legal and illegal -- at America's racetracks, is inflammatory. But is an aggrieved veterinarian's need to protect his career somehow more crucial than, say, mine?

I'm fooling with my reputation in two fields with this blog. I am a professional journalist with 20 years in the business -- fully qualified and experienced to criticize Joe Drape -- and I am also an entry-level breeder of thoroughbred racehorses.

Am I making nothing but friends with my comments here, on this and other issues?


Could my opinions, and the frankness with which they're delivered, potentially cost me opportunities in the fields of both journalism and horse racing?


But I was brought up to believe that if I stood for something, I shouldn't -- nay, couldn't -- be afraid to say it. Even if it made enemies. Even if it came at the price of money or so-called friends or a job.

If standing for what you believe in costs you allies and allows those in the wrong to still prevail, as a small-town police chief once told me, "then this is a job I don't want anyway."

How strongly held are your convictions about preserving the health of these animals if it is more important to protect your business or connections or reputation among powerful people than it is to publicly stand up and safeguard your patients and their equine peers?

It starts with a simple statement. Print this off and have your fellow veterinarians who agree sign on, too.

"I am Dr. ________. I have been a licensed veterinarian in the horse racing industry for ____ years. And I'm sick and tired of what some of my colleagues and their clients are doing to these animals in the name of competition and profit. There is a better way."

Certainly your opposition will be determined and well-financed. They will collude against you. That might indeed cost you some income; perhaps your whole practice if it largely involves racehorses. But do you want to stay in the business if it's that filthy?

Besides, changing the world isn't for the meek.

The most notable hero from the Tiananmen Square demonstrations remains anonymous, other than the moniker "Tank Man." But this "unknown rebel" did not seek anonymity. Far from it. He walked into a public square where one day prior -- by some witness accounts -- armored vehicles of the People's Liberation Army had crushed cars and civilians beneath their treads.

And he stood his ground in front of a column of Type 59 tanks.

To this day we are not certain of Tank Man's identity, not because he sought anonymity, but in fact because he did not shy away from his moment in history. And for that courage, he was dragged away by unknown people, to face an unknown fate.

In Beijing on June 5, 1989, one man, refusing to cower from the adversary, stood down a column of tanks in hopes of changing his nation and the world.

In 2009 America, highly trained and licensed professionals with meaningful experience demand anonymity before giving their professional opinions to a newspaper reporter because the issues are too "combustible" ... in trying to change a sports business.

Ralph Waldo Emerson once wrote: "When a resolute young fellow steps up to the great bully, the world, and takes him boldly by the beard, he is often surprised to find it comes off in his hand, and that it was only tied on to scare away the timid adventurers."

And we've all heard that there's strength in numbers.

But how can the movement to "clean up" horse racing quantify its strength, how will it ever know when it finally outnumbers the opposition, if even the movement's truest believers fear shouting out their names at roll call?