Despite my own personal mixed feelings regarding horse racing, I do inevitably get excited when the Triple Crown rolls around. Why? Because for just a few minutes every year, the rest of the nation becomes as fascinated by horses as equestrians are on the daily. No matter whether or not you ever rode a horse, the thrill of seeing American Pharoah break an almost 40 year drought and take the Triple Crown- that was something that just set the heart on fire.
But there to douse the flames are some of the horrors that inevitably come with mixing horses and money- it invites greed to look past some of the basic principles of horsemanship, and take advantage of a creature bound to do our will. And I won’t pretend that racing is the only victim to this side of human nature. Every horse discipline, every industry has seen its fair share of a turned eye, or pushing just that bit too far, and no one can claim total innocence.
And yet there, on the morning after the Derby, questions arose. Charismatic trainer Bob Baffert led the stunning Justify out to meet an adoring press, and horsepeople looked on in dismay. That horse was not sound. Not at all.
Baffert clearly says in the video that he came out of the Derby “really well”, and yet, the horse won’t comfortably put weight on his left hind. Later in a press conference, Baffert said that the horse had Scratches, a skin infection that was irritated by the gravel. Then it was circulated that the horse had a bruised foot.
In the end, Justify was cleared for the Preakness, and made himself even more valuable by winning the second leg of the Triple Crown. At my particular viewing party, we all watched him walk before and after with eagle eyes, and couldn’t come to a unified consensus on whether he looked 100% or not. And yet, he won, and surely we’ll see him again in the Belmont at the end of the summer.
For my part, I hope he does well, and I hope that all the curfuffle really is just an ill timed stone bruise, or a skin infection. Justify is one of the strongest, well boned TB’s to win the Derby since Big Brown 10 years ago. His lack of a 2 yr old season may set an excellent precedent for later-started, but successful horses that have more longevity in their careers, both on the track and in potential sporthorse disciplines.
Things I do wonder about, and I hope there are informed individuals out there who can fill us in…
What kind of vetting is required, if any, before these big races? How is transparency viewed in the racing industry? What medications are allowed to be used (NSAIDs, etc) on the track? Do you think Justify has a shot at the Belmont? Is there a horse out there that you prefer? Where do you think the racing industry should go, or practices they should adopt?