CRAWFORD | Backside buzz: Dissatisfaction with Churchill, PETA c - WDRB 41 Louisville News

CRAWFORD | Backside buzz: Dissatisfaction with Churchill, PETA controversy

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The crowd outside California Chrome's barn Tuesday morning. The crowd outside California Chrome's barn Tuesday morning.
LOUISVILLE, Ky. (WDRB) -- The favorite was on the track, the fans were packing into the Churchill Downs backside, and (surprise) the sun was out Tuesday morning. A quick run through some of the backside buzz on Tuesday:

1. The most talked-about piece on the backside this morning, with apologies to media members (present company included) was written by an owner.

Rick Porter, owner of Fox Hill Farm, vented some frustration at Churchill Downs in a blog entry on the farm's web site. First he was angered at the track's refusal to cough up a couple of tickets for an owner of a horse entered in a $300,000 Grade 2 stakes on Kentucky Oaks Day. He was told he could get two tickets for $200 each that he probably wouldn't like, and was told that an owner in another stakes that wanted to bring nine guests was offered a table for $42,000.

That kind of set Porter off. He already was upset at the way he'd been treated when he wanted to bring four survivors of the D-Day landing at Normandy last season, when Normandy Invasion ran in the Derby. He wrote of that experience:

Last year I brought four 90 year old veterans that had stormed the beaches at Normandy at Omaha Beach. I called (Churchill Downs president Kevin) Flanery’s office for tickets for them and a table where they could watch TV. They had aides with them and could not move around very easily. The answer from his office was a flat-out NO. ... I couldn’t take it so I called the chairman of the board, Dick Duchossois, who I know casually from racing. He could not believe it and called me back in less than three minutes and said you have a table for eight in one of the nicest rooms at Churchill.

What is wrong with this management group? No wonder racing is on the decline. They don’t have any regard for the owners, in my opinion. They are for themselves and the race track as I see it.

Not only do I feel that owners are treated like second class citizens by Churchill Downs, so too are the handicappers and everyday bettors. Their takeout increase has so angered horse players that they have called for a boycott of betting at Churchill Downs. Without these two components (owners and bettors) racing would be over.

When I write about Churchill Downs and strained relations with horsemen and bettors, stories like this are what I'm talking about. There's little nickel-and-dime stuff all the time. It's one thing if, as a track, you can't afford to construct $12 million video boards or pay your top executives tens of millions. But if you can do those things, then the horsemen ought to get more consideration.

Churchill's leadership doesn't seem to realize that you're treated by the public in proportion to how you treat people.

2. If you've been around a racetrack in Kentucky, you know about Indian Charlie's newsletter. He's been skewering people at local tracks for decades, but a recent comment about Mexican workers in an item about PETA's forays into horse racing was more than track officials at Keeneland could take.

The track sent out a release Tuesday saying his publication no longer would be distributed at the track, and that Keeneland would no longer advertise in the publication.

"Keeneland works diligently to ensure that all of our customers, clients, employees and outside staff, whether for racing or sales, are treated with the utmost respect and dignity," the track said in a statement. "Any standards or statements less than that are unacceptable within our industry and the international community that we strive to serve."

3. The favorite has arrived on the Churchill Downs backside. California Chrome took to the track, and looked, according to most learned observers, "like a horse running around on the dirt."

Actually, how a horse gallops over the Churchill surface isn't insignificant. In fact, it can tell you as much as an actual workout. Not all tracks are the same. How does he move over the track, how does he look amid the surroundings? It's an inexact science.

California Chrome looked spirited, got a bit jumpy when other horses went by, and was "more aggressive" than usual, according to his regular exercise rider, Willy Delgado, all of which his trainer, Art Sherman, took as a positive sign.

"He shipped good and he’s doing good, just like we thought,” Art Sherman said afterward. “He’s a laid-back colt, so we knew the trip wasn’t going to bother him. And he’s feeling awful good right now, so I’m not surprised to hear he was pulling hard."

"He’s plenty fit to run,” Sherman said. "It’s mostly schooling now; getting him used to the place."

4. The other item I heard folks talking about on the backside this morning -- Los Angeles Clippers owner Donald Sterling. While horse racing has its own controversy (national outlets revisiting PETA's hidden camera in Steve Asmussen's barn and the subsequent New York Times story and lingering questions over the use of medications with horses), it's just a blip compared to the national fixation on Sterling, particularly after NBA commissioner Adam Silver banned him for life on Tuesday.

While the question of medications is an important one -- and a debate over the sport's present and future, including breeding demands that continually stress speed over stability -- is long overdue, it's not likely that this year's round of controversy will rise to a level to change the status quo.

Unfortunately, more often than not it takes tragedy to turn large-scale public attention to serious horse racing issues.

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