Carpenter: The Public Wants Change, Not Explanations, When It Comes To Racing Injuries

For racetrackers outside the state of California, the public uproar over the 2018-19 spate of racehorse deaths at Santa Anita probably feels like a memory. After all, in the time since then, many have been riding out constant financial uncertainty thanks to an ongoing global pandemic, and several states have faced threats to supplemental gaming or HHR income.

For racetrack practitioner and surgeon Dr. Ryan Carpenter though, the sea changes that started with mainstream media attention on Santa Anita haven’t finished – and they probably won’t anytime soon. Carpenter has been outspoken ever since about the ways he has seen the public focus improve racing for the better in California. At a recent virtual edition of the Tex Cauthen Seminar on racing safety, Carpenter continued to provide his thoughts on the interaction between the racing world and the world at large.

Carpenter was the first to admit he was skeptical of the initial changes the state and track ownership rolled out in response to the crisis —  chiefly, backing up therapeutic drug administrations – but after seeing them in action, he believes they are making a real difference. The new requirement to have horses examined after workouts and races has been key in letting veterinarians get a look at horses in vulnerable moments when they’re most likely to show signs of a brewing discomfort due to bone remodeling.

But although trade media acknowledged when Santa Anita’s spike not only passed, but fatality rates decreased significantly, Carpenter pointed out the mainstream media did not view it the same way. He highlighted a recent Los Angeles Times editorial that concluded: “If track owners and trainers want to keep racing horses, then they need to keep them from dying in the process.”

“The reality is that every horse that sustains a fatal injury in Southern California is going to make the news, in one form or another,” he said. “It’s talked about commonly on news outlets like NPR and it’s going to be in the LA Times or the national news.”

Carpenter presented the results of a study undertaken by the Thoroughbred Safety Coalition to better understand the impact of the Santa Anita breakdowns on public opinion. Survey takers were asked about what they thought the future of racing should be before and after they read about the Santa Anita fatalities. They were asked to choose whether they believed racing should continue, continue with reform, or be banned outright. As other surveys have shown, a small group of survey takers wanted racing banned – 16% of respondents before they’d read about Santa Anita and 19% after reading about it. The most interesting change for Carpenter was that 57% said prior to learning about Santa Anita that racing should continue on with reforms, but the number jumped to 66% after they read about the breakdowns.

Most people (82%) said the industry’s biggest priority should be better protection of the safety and well-being of horses. Another 46% wanted to see increased transparency and accountability for rulebreakers.

The survey also asked people to indicate whether they had a favorable or an unfavorable opinion of various sports, including professional football, basketball, soccer, and racing. The Triple Crown was viewed favorably by 46% of respondents, unfavorably by 24%, and 30% had never heard of the series or didn’t know enough to form an opinion. The American horse racing industry generally was 37% favorable, 35% unfavorable, 27% undecided – roughly equal to boxing and not too far off from the rankings for the greyhound racing industry. Professional football, by contrast, had left a favorable impression with 60% of followers and an unfavorable one with just 28%.

Carpenter thought the latter statistic was interesting, given the heat professional football took for its treatment of concussions a few years ago. It would seem it has rebounded some of its public trust in the intervening years thanks to reform and good marketing.

One of the most disturbing findings for Carpenter was a question asking people who they trusted to help enforce safety rules in racing. Large animal veterinarians like himself ranked highest, getting trust from 70% of the audience. Animal rights groups including the People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals (PETA) ranked second, with 49% of respondents saying they trusted the group to help enforce safety rules in racing.

“We can’t let PETA – who doesn’t want to reform the way we do things, they want to eliminate the way we do things – be the trusted voice for people to go to,” he said.

Carpenter cited a bill sponsored by a California assemblyman who took input from the industry and from PETA when drafting the legislation.

“Unfortunately, he followed some of PETA’s recommendations. This bill was passed and is currently the law of the land in California. Some of the things we’re doing differently is because PETA was able to speak on our behalf. In all honesty, we can’t let this happen. We as veterinarians have to be the ones to speak on our behalf, and on the behalf of the horse.”

What about the familiar refrain from many hardboots that we simply have to tell the outside world what a good job racing does at protecting its equine athletes?

“People often say to me, ‘You know Ryan, we just have to educate them about what we’re doing. Once they understand what we’re doing, they’ll understand why we’re doing it,’” he said. “I think it’s important to acknowledge the fact that by and large, that train has left the station. While I don’t think education is bad, if you look at this graph and you look at the stat analysis, people aren’t asking us to teach them what we’re doing. They’re asking us to do it differently by putting the horse’s safety first. I think you can do that when you cultivate a cultural change in your industry and in your backstretch.”

The post Carpenter: The Public Wants Change, Not Explanations, When It Comes To Racing Injuries appeared first on Horse Racing News | Paulick Report.

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