What We're Thankful For in Horse Racing This Year

Synthetic surfaces like the one at Woodbine are a potential change that has been discussed in racing this year.
Synthetic surfaces like the one at Woodbine are one potential change that has been discussed in racing this year. (Michael Burns photo)

After a tumultuous year in racing and with the Thanksgiving holiday just around the corner, find out what the America's Best Racing team is most thankful for this year.

Members of the media at Churchill Downs during Derby week (Eclipse Sportswire)

Renewed Emphasis on Equine Safety

It’s no secret that 2019 has been a very troubling year for U.S. horse racing. The spike in equine fatalities last winter and spring at Santa Anita Park brought national media attention to the lack of comprehensive, nationwide medication rules for racing and the absence of a governing body that can enforce them. Issues surrounding the safety of racetrack surfaces and the pressure to fill racecards have also been part of a growing national debate over the future of the sport, but I’ve found that by far the most concerning topic among the general population is drugs. More than once, I’ve been met with disbelief from a casual fan of horse racing when they learn that there are no national medication standards for horse racing and no “commissioner” of racing.

Given that scenario, it’s good to see that many leaders within the industry are joining together and taking the initial steps to draw up and implement uniform rules within the sport that place the safety of the equine athlete as the highest priority. The recent creation of the Thoroughbred Safety Coalition is but one example. Whether these efforts are folded in with federal legislation in the form of the Horseracing Integrity Act of 2019 (if it gets passed) or not, the important thing is that a true sense of urgency is finally moving the needle on much needed reform, and it’s about time. I’m thankful that’s happened this year – now let’s see it bear fruit in 2020.—Patrick Reed

American Pharoah
American Pharoah (Eclipse Sportswire)

Stars of the Sport

As Patrick Reed mentioned above, the renewed emphasis on safety is paramount for horse racing and, along those lines, a special thanks to Michael Dickinson and his wife, Joan Wakefield, for dedicating a huge portion of their lives to developing the safest surface for horses: Tapeta Footings.

But just to make this simple, I’m most grateful for racing’s superstars I’ve been lucky enough to be able to watch over the last 40 or so years that I’ve been a fan.

From the first star I can remember, Spectacular Bid in 1980 (when he was 4 and I was 6), to European star Enable in 2019 with so many personal favorites in between: John Henry, Sunday Silence-Easy Goer, Personal Ensign, Holy Bull, Cigar, Azeri, Smarty Jones, Afleet Alex, Barbaro, Rachel Alexandra, Goldikova, Zenyatta, Wise Dan, American Pharoah and so many others. These racehorses give us so much and they are simply remarkable animals.—Mike Curry

Eclipse Sportswire

The Generosity of Horses

Like many sports, racing is often a microcosm of life in general: struggle met with joy; perseverance on a long road pockmarked with trials and triumphs, ultimately, hopefully, culminating in achievement.

Unlike other sports, the star athletes compete purely because they enjoy it. Horses run because they love it, and race because we ask them to. They don’t do it for money, or for fame, or for accomplishment, or for any of the other reasons that muddy human athletic endeavors. They give us their best, and they deserve ours. I’m thankful for their generosity and, with the reforms set in motion this year, hopeful that we as an industry will return the favor.—Christina Moore

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