President's Message - January, 2015
Greetings to the members of the WHBPA.
Winter is well underway, and as I write this it is partly cloudy and I have had to put the blinds down in my office in order to see properly. Damn sun in January! And it must be 50 degrees out as well!
The transition of our track from being owned and operated by Northwest Racing Associates to the Muckleshoot Indian Tribe is also well underway. Everything that I have seen and heard portends two good things: 1) improved economics for our owners and trainers; and 2) otherwise business as usual. While we understand that certain financial positives have been added to the mix at Emerald Downs for the coming year [to include purse enhancements, increased participation purses, "Early-Bird Move-In Bonus", reduced start-up costs (first eight bags of bedding per stall provided), and lower fees on both dorm rentals and mechanical hot-walkers, plus trainers have the opportunity to recover up to 100 percent of per stall per day costs based on a stall efficiency factor and conservation of utilities], it is also good to know that along with the changes, many other aspects of Emerald Downs, such as the commitment to a well-maintained facility, customer service, and the management that we have worked with in the past, will remain the same.
2015 will be a great year of expectation, excitement, and transition.
With respect to the transition, 2015 will bring an election for the Board of Directors of the Washington HBPA. I encourage you to consider increasing your participation in the industry by considering running for the Board, or by supporting those who do serve. 2015 will be my last year serving as your President; it will complete my sixth year of service, and I am more than happy to pass the reins of leadership to your next choice.
Please make sure your contact information (email, phone and address); with the Washington Horse Racing Commission is up to date and correct, when you get your WHRC license. You become a member of the WHBPA when you obtain an owner's or trainer's license. By Washington State law, the commission may provide contact information for dissemination of membership or racing information. Any changes after licensing should be reported directly to the WHBPA. Current and complete information will allow us to ensure that you receive a ballot and information regarding our 2015 upcoming elections. My emails do not reach everyone who is represented by the Washington HBPA because we simply do not have the email addresses or physical addresses of some of the very people we represent and who have a right to a say in our leadership.
My participation with the WHBPA has reflected my personal goal to do what we could to keep racing in Washington; to that end I have worked with a caring and often very busy group of Board members to do what we could to extend racing locally by working with Emerald Downs to foster an environment where everyone – horseman and track operator alike – are respected for the contributions that they make toward keeping racing going here. Our friends at Emerald Racing Associates have done an incredible job of providing the Emerald Downs facility, keeping it in first-class condition on both the front and backside, and in getting people to return to the racetrack. Our new partners at the Muckleshoot Indian Tribe have been immensely successful in their own business operations, and have participated in our industry over the last decade on a basis of understanding how their success has compromised racing, and assisted with purses in an important way. They will now add their vision and expertise to that of the Emerald Racing Associates team, and I am sure that 2015 and years thereafter will add to the "spring in our step" that many of us are feeling at present.
As both the President of the Washington HBPA and the Secretary / Treasurer of the National HBPA, I am constantly reviewing the issues that confront our industry. Chief among those most prevalent at present are the forces who want to see racing abolished, or changed in dramatic ways that would be harmful to our horses.
As part of its campaign to impact horse racing, in the spring of 2014, PETA created a firestorm when it released a short videotape aimed at embarrassing and charging trainer Steve Asmussen and his top assistant, Scott Blasi, with a number of counts of alleged animal cruelty. It created enough of a firestorm (together with Blasi's recorded crassness and foul-mouth) that Blasi was fired, Asmussen's name for two years has been removed from the list of potential honorees at the National Racing Hall of Fame, and countless money has been expended by the State of Kentucky and New York to follow up on these claims. While the New York investigation has not concluded, the one in Kentucky did, just yesterday.
I have downloaded the more than 200 pages that are part of the Kentucky report, and read all of the narratives. The first 27 pages are the summary report of the Public Protection Cabinet of the Kentucky Horse Racing Commission, followed by a 49 page "Investigative Report", the complaint of PETA, and a number of supporting documents. To anyone who is interested in this subject, or found the allegations of PETA to be unsettling, or more likely, unbelievable, take heart: it turns out the accusations were found to be unbelievable. The evidence reviewed by the Commission is clear, and neither Asmussen nor Blasi have been found to have done anything other than use exceptional horsemanship at their barns. No horses were abused, no horses were given anything but legal medications, and no horses were asked to run in a sore condition. From my perspective, the Commission treated the investigation with substantial vigor, and sought testimony from witnesses and documentation. Not surprisingly, however, PETA would not respond to the subpoena from the Commission, which sought the various documents that it contended it held, as well as an alleged 7 hours plus of videotape. The Commission, as would most reasonable observers, thought it odd that PETA did not provide all the alleged information that it had at its disposal, but regardless, the investigation was thorough and clearly disputed much of the alleged evidence of PETA. Of course, PETA's allegations were the subject of a major series of articles by Joe Drape of the New York Times. I can't imagine there is too much price at the Times right now. Given what I read, it seems very unlikely that there will be any findings in New York that could contradict what was found to be the case in Kentucky.
If you find yourself with some time, consider going to the Kentucky Horse Racing Commission website and downloading the report. It will help you with any arguments that anyone wants to make about the way that horses are cared for, and what PETA is, and is not, in this process. By the way, the PETA "investigator" turned out to be very much undercover – or perhaps "undercovers" is a better term, as she was having "an intimate relationship" with Scott Blasi, the very person who was thrown under the bus. There are other elements to this story that are salacious and funny, and others that are actually very sad. All of this from an agenda set in motion by PETA in its zest to advocate for the end of horseracing.
Wishing you the best of success in 2015!