RACING needs a Surgeon

Slender purses, doped horses, dummy stewards, imported secretaries— they're killing racing, says this writer

DOUGLAS EPPES February 15 1937

RACING needs a Surgeon

Slender purses, doped horses, dummy stewards, imported secretaries— they're killing racing, says this writer

DOUGLAS EPPES February 15 1937

RACING needs a Surgeon


Slender purses, doped horses, dummy stewards, imported secretaries— they're killing racing, says this writer


WANTED! A doctor, a surgeon preferably, to operate on the corpus of Canadian horseracing.

He’d have to be exceptionally skilful with the knife; fearless, too, for the patient is in a bad way and all the reassuring bulletins broadcast by interested publicists will not soften the hard truth that his life cannot be prolonged without a major operation—perhaps several. Which may sound a bit sad to lovers of the Sport of Kings, but, alas, like many doleful things, is undeniably true.

How did the patient get into this distressing condition? Was it a sudden seizure, or was it caused by one of those insidious maladies that begin with a minor ailment and develop gradually into a highly critical, perhaps fatal, illness?

The latter diagnosis is nearer the mark, for, to exchange metaphors, Canadian racing has been steadily going downhill for several years and during the past year reached a new' low level.

What other deduction can be drawn from the following facts?

That Canada’s leading owner and thoroughbred breeder is offering his farm for sale, and intends to establish a new one in California, where he plans to race most of his stock in the future.

That several of our prominent owners are confining their turf interests to the United States during the summer months, when our own season should be at its height.

That the wholesale slashing of prize moneys or purses has caused keen dissatisfaction among horsemen, has virtually put an end to the old-time invasion of American owners, and made daily programs a carnival for the cheapest type of thoroughbreds.

That, day after day, the same low-grade horses gallop around the tracks, so that John Public no longer enquires about the form of a racer but now demands, “Whose turn is it?”

Canadian Owners Driven Away

WHEN IT was announced that Harry C. Hatch, Toronto turfman, had decided to transfer his pretentious stable to California and race there, the announcement created quite a flutter in turf circles. For

the Hatch name is a big one in Canadian racing. Some say the biggest. His Ox ford-Cambridge hooped silks are know’n on every course in Canada and on many in the United States as well, but after this season they seldom will be seen in Canada, for Mr. Hatch has publicly stated that he cannot find races in this country suitable for his horses. In addition, there are other matters in connection with our racing which are said to have dissatisfied him.

Other outstanding turfmen who now race extensively across the border during the Canadian season are Edward Seagram and R. S. McLaughlin. Mr. Seagram’s stable is small compared with those he campaigned within recent memory, but it contains some first-class performers which very rarely have been afforded an opportunity to stretch their legs over their native tracks. Unless it be a two-yearold, one seldom sees a top-notch McLaughlin racer from the close of the Woodbine spring meeting until it reopens in the fall, and here again the lack of opportunity for good horses is the reason.

The slender purses offered at most meetings have frightened away the best horses. Outside of the Ontario Jockey Club, an owner has to be satisfied to compete for offerings ranging from a low of $400 to a high of $800. The value of the purses at one meeting this summer averaged $500. Remember that second, third and sometimes fourth money is included in this sum, and it will readily be seen that the owner of the winning horse reaps no El Dorado. There are occasional handicaps in which purse values may run from $1,000 to $2.500, but such handicaps are rare. Contrasting these pitiful offerings with the bountifully endowed purses distributed by tracks across the international boundary, it is no wonder that owners prefer to compete there. Still less wonder that good American horses remain in their own country. The inevitable result is that Canadian racing devotees must be satisfied with sport provided by inferior types, many of w'hich never win from one season’s end to another. And yet they are welcomed and catered to at the average Canadian meeting.

Who is to blame for introducing this amazing cavalcade of low-grade horses into the sport? Unquestionably, the track managements cannot escape their share of it. which is the major sliarc. Racing with them is strictly a business

—though one may well except the Ontario Jockey Club, which has tried its utmost to keep it a sport—and one doesn’t operate a business for the purpose of losing money. Falling off in speculation and in attendance, as measured by the good old days when “the goose hung high,” has caused a shrinkage in receipts, and though frantic efforts have been made by most track operators to entice the public into their grounds by newffangled forms of speculation, and the lowering of entrance fees and betting units, they haven’t proved entirely successful.

The Doping Evil

AND SO the horse breeders and owners, the backbone • of the turf, have been made the goats. Purses have been cut here and there, and former rich stakes cancelled. These economical measures have helped out the track owners, but most decidedly not the horse owners, nor the public, which has learned the bitter lesson that cheap racing is dear racing, because it so often means entire absence of form standards.

George Hardy, prominent Toronto business executive, is president of the Canadian Thoroughbred Breeders’ Association, a representative turf organization whose interests are easily identified by its name. He is a practical turfman, for he has owned, bred and raced horses over a lengthy period. Anything he has to say about turf matters is w'orth listening to, and to him this writer addressed the question: “What is w'rong with our racing?” “The public is not getting the protection to which it is entitled,” was the ready response.

What did he mean by that? Mr. Hardy was asked. Whereupon he mentioned the doping of horses—a pernicious practice which, he stressed, is decidedly harmful to the breeding industry and equally hurtful to the pocketbooks of the racing public.

Why should it hurt the public? he was requested to explain. Because, he pointed out, it establishes a false and unreliable standard of form. Take, for example, a track w'here the management is zealous in enforcing the rules against the employment of noxious drugs to increase the

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Racing Needs a Surgeon

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speed of horses, and where, to use a turf phrase, “they have to run cold.” Horse A beats horse B by perhaps five lengths at this course. That establishes horse A’s superiority in the minds of the public. The scene shifts to another track, at which doping regulations are not so strictly enforced, and to the bewilderment of the fans, horse B now beats horse A. In the majority of cases, the answer is that horse B has been doped; that, unless he gets his “shot” he will not show his best efforts.

Mr. Hardy believed that the Government could quickly put an end to the doping evil on tracks if it adopted the same methods as it does when a drug addict is arrested and haled to court. In such cases, the source of supply is run down by the authorities. Why not, he asked, follow the same procedure in racing? Find out who is supplying noxious drugs to those offenders who have been banned by track officials for administering them to horses in their charge. The United States Federal Government had done that, he pointed out, and one well-known turfman had received a severe penitentiary term.

A word of explanation might here be interjected. At three tracks—those of the Ontario Jockey Club, the Hamilton Jockey Club and the Niagara Racing Association —a saliva box is in service, and a member of the R. G. M. P. and a Government veterinarian are on hand to test the saliva of any racer which the stewards direct to undergo examination. Naturally this has reduced the doping evil on these tracks to a minimum. On other tracks there is no such test, although the stewards, if they so wish, can order the track veterinarian to examine any horse suspected of having been stimulated. It may only be a coincidence, but records reveal that at those tracks where the saliva test is rigidly enforced, racing is decidedly more formful.

Mr. Hardy believed that the conduct of racing could be improved if more attention was paid to the selection of stewards and other important officials. That opinion seemed to be generally held by many owners whom this writer interviewed.

“Practical men are badly needed in the stewards' stands,” asserted one well-known horseman: “men who know and understand horses, who are able to handicap them, and who are thoroughly conversant with racing rules. We have too many dummy stewards in Canada and too many officials who shrink from responsibility. And the public knows it and comments on their weak handling of flagrant offenders against the racing code. How can any major sport flourish when its officials lack the confidence of its patrons?”

Canadian Secretaries Needed

HERE IS another cause for grievance —the employment of foreign-bom secretaries at many Canadian meetings. A racing secretary holds the key position. It is his duty to prepare what is known as the condition book—sometimes irreverently termed “the horseman’s bible”—in which

are listed the particulars for every contest to be decided at the meeting. Naturally the task requires a thorough knowledge of Canadian horses. Such knowledge is scarcely possessed by a nonresident of this country, who comes here for a brief period, and who by reason of his duties at American tracks often is compelled to frame his racing programs when not on the actual scene of operations. In other words, he has not the requisite information at hand regarding the equine material on which he must work. The result follows in the cancellation of races in the condition book.

Here indeed is a source of irritation to horse owners and public alike. Let us suppose that a track management has announced in its condition book that a $2.500 handicap will be decided on a certain day. On the eve of the race, however, it learns that only four entries have been received, these representing the best horses at the meeting. In nine cases out of ten, the management will cancel the handicap race and substitute a cheaper contest. Which means that the good horses will remain in their stables while their more lowly brethren cavort around the running strip.

Why was the handicap race cancelled? Because it would not evoke speculative interest, and track managements are mainly dependent on their betting rake-off —five per cent on each dollar wagered— for their revenue. Small entry lists do not attract as much money into the parimutuels as large ones. Hence, rather than incur a loss, the management calls off the race and substitutes a cheaper one. Naturally it benefits two ways—by purse reduction and increased wagering. Not so the horse owner or the public. The first loses a golden chance to compete for a wellfilled purse—all too rare these days—while the public misses an opportunity of seeing good racers in spirited competition.

Then there’s the vexatious “claiming” problem. Claiming races, it should be explained, are turf events in which a horse may be claimed from an owner for a sum specified in the conditions of the race. In principle, such races are excellent because they prevent a horseman from entering a racer worth, say, $3,000, in a contest in which $1,000 horses compete. But the trouble in Canada is that there are all too few events for the higher rated horse, with the result that the owner perforce has to enter the animal at a lower value, and generally loses him to some astute horseman. Incidentally, there are some owners who have built up their stables m this manner—a practice hotly resented by those horsemen who have been correspondingly despoiled. Here, the solution seems to lie in the return to the old-time selling races which permitted an owner to buy back his horse at an open track auction.

The Remedy

RACING IN Ontario suffers from the • fact that it is divided into two camps. Tracks under the jurisdiction of the

Incorporated Canadian Racing Associaflions are in one; those loosely termed "‘Independents” are in the other. It is unfortunate that the former body, generally known as the I. C. R. A., should be the weaker organization numerically, but as it licenses all trainers and jockeys, and has taken a leading part in stamping out the pernicious practice of doping horses on its tracks, it can be regarded as Ehe bulwark of the sport. At any rate, it is so regarded by racing patrons. But for reasons best known to themselves, the independent tracks resolutely remain outside its fold. Which is just one more reason why horsemen and lovers of racing are at one in their advocacy of a controlling body for the sport—not necessarily a commission—which is capable of blending all jockey clubs and turf associations in one harmonious whole.

With the creation of a controlling board, committee, or anything you like to term at, racing may creep out of its present

slough of despond and regain its former proud place in the affections of its patrons. Certainly it could lose nothing by the appointment of a governing body composed of representatives of the tracks, prominent owner-breeders and a nominee of the Government, which, to revert to my early simile, could play the role of surgeon and remove the evils now inexorably strangling it.

And chief among the evils that require the skilful use of the surgeon’s knife I number: The cluttering of our tracks with cheap, unsound horses; the practice of appointing “safe” but spineless racing officials; the purse-slashing methods now universally in vogue; the selection of foreign-bom racing secretaries when comptent Canadians are available; and the wishy-washy methods adopted by some managements in dealing with the greatest menace of all to clean racing—the administration of noxious drugs to thoroughbred horses.