Letter To The Editor: ‘What Has Happened To My Favorite Sport?’

“We had faces then.”

That immortal line Gloria Swanson, as aging Norma Desmond, says to William Holden in Sunset Boulevard about the heyday of her early film career. What has happened to my favorite sport? The faces of horse racing’s magnificent history have been overshadowed by those of unscrupulous so-called horsemen who have dragged the sport I love through a steaming pile of drug-riddled muck.

The names have been coming at such a regular clip. Dick Dutrow, suspended for a decade; Jason Servis, indicted along with 27 other people by federal authorities on charges related to manufacturing, procuring, distributing and administering illegal substances to racehorses. Then there is Jorge Navarro, sentenced by a federal judge to five years in prison for his role in a performance-enhancing drug scandal, a man so proud of his drug-induced cheating, that he kept a pair of shoes in his barn emblazoned with his nickname–Juice Man. The beautiful XY Jet died while under Navarro’s tutelage and the brilliant Shancelot’s reputation tarnished under the suspicion his wins came with the assistance of chemical aid.

In the last week, we have seen Chip Woolley, trainer of 2009 Kentucky Derby winner Mine That Bird, suspended for six months for having illegal possession of a needle and syringe in his Arizona barn; Juan Carlos Vazquez suspended for two positive tests of a drug that metabolizes into central nervous system stimulants. Of course he is appealing.
We saw Marcus Vitali, handed a twelve month suspension for a meth positive in one of his horses, only the latest in a years-long series of drug infractions from Florida to Pennsylvania.

Then there is the disgrace of Bob Baffert. Nearly 30 drug positives during the course of his career, multiple sudden deaths that have never been fully explained  and a history of denials, shirking responsibility, blame games, and outlandish excuses — poppy seed bagels, cold medicine, pain patches, contaminated hay, skin cream. I work as a teacher’s aide at an elementary school, and I am used to hearing wild excuses for unfinished or missing assignments, but Baffert takes the cake.

And what can I say about poor Medina Spirit. He was, for a week, the feel good story racing needed — a modestly-bred colt born to a tiny breeder in Florida and sold for a pittance who ran his heart out literally. With his drug positive, his Derby win may be taken away, and even if it is allowed to stand after all of Baffert’s legal maneuvering, the brave little colt’s victory, and his reputation, will forever be tarnished.

It makes me so angry when television commentators and print journalists call Baffert the “Face of Racing.” NO!! He and these other men have hijacked the face of racing. To me, they represent greed, egotism, and a cheater’s mentality to win at all costs without a care for the horses in their charge.

The face of racing is and always has been, the horses–Man o’ War, Citation, Secretariat, Dr. Fager, Buckpasser, Seattle Slew, Ruffian, Affirmed, John Henry, Forego. Personal Ensign, Zenyatta, American Pharoah, and my favorite of recent years, Elate. These are magical names and there are so many more. These are the faces of racing.

If they could speak, these horses, now overshadowed by the problems faced by racing in recent years, can look back to a time when they were the names on everybody’s lips and say, “We had faces then.”

Elizabeth Martiniak
Turfwriter/fan 
Janesville, Wisc.


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