Alex Brown Exercise Rider and Horse Welfare Advocate
Thursday, June 26, 2008
Alex Brown has worked in horseracing on-and-off in North America for twenty years. He spent most of this time at the Fair Hill Training Center. Alex also runs alexbrownracing.com, a site that initially focused on Barbaro's recovery shifted it's focus to address Barbaro's ongoing legacy, particularly horse racing issues, horse rescue, and horse slaughter.
Based in Canada, he is an exercise rider for the trainer Steve Asmussen. He also has worked at Penn National, Presque Isle Downs, Keeneland, Churchill Downs and Sam Houston Race Park. He has worked on three synthetic surfaces: the Tapeta Footings surface at Fair Hill, Polytrack at Keeneland and Woodbine. He is an unabashed advocate for these new surfaces.
During this year's Triple Crown season, his blog was among those featured on the New York Times' web site.
Alex has an MBA from the University of Delaware. He taught Internet Marketing at the University of Delaware, first teaching this topic in 1997, when he was one of only two teachers of the subject matter anywhere at the time. Alex also worked at the Wharton School of the University of Pennsylvania for seven years, and a boutique consulting firm Clearadmit.com, for two years. Alex has been a co-founder of a number of dot.com enterprises. He is originally from the United Kingdom.
Do you have any ideas or thoughts about how the current "claiming" system can be changed so that it takes the welfare of the horse into consideration?
Certainly the current claiming system does not account for the welfare of the horse. It is too easy for horses to get "lost" in the system. The system, as it stands, is designed for efficiency for the industry I guess. How should it change? I think the claim slip should be dropped after the race, rather than before. More information is therefore provided about the horse at that stage. There has also been some discussion that the claim should have to clear a vet's inspection some period of time after the race. I am not sure how practical that approach would be, especially as it would involve some level of subjectivity. Anyway, the claiming system as it stands is very troubling. Most horses running have extensive vet work done. There is no incentive to forward those vet records with the claimed horse.
Do all race horses have a neck strap?
They should! I would be lost riding a horse without one. We include a neck strap as part of our racing equipment (see this picture of Curlin at the races) but not many other trainers do that.
I follow your battle to end horse slaughter and certainly appreciate your dedication to such an important cause! My question: Do you think Barbaro's breakdown could be linked back to weakening of his bloodline through his parentage--taking into consideration what we now know about the past drug use (2 - 3 decades worth)? Would his siblings' career benefit from a longer training session where they'd have to skip the Triple Crown races? I keep hearing that early training strengthens the bones, but I don't see how it could if there have been prior injuries. I feel that if Curlin races long enough, and enough marketing takes place, maybe running as 4-year-olds and on could be made equally popular for the general fans--at least until the bloodline gets strong again. Just wondering what your thoughts are.
There has been much discussion about breeding and linking the current breeding practices (need for speed) to the weakening of the breed (more fragile). I am not an expert of that domain, so I really don't have any strong opinions. I do think we would be better off if we did not race horses as 2yos but we have done that forever and that would be a massive shift for the industry with significant associated costs. Not practical. I think there are many other things we can do to improve the sport for the welfare of the horse that would have significant impact at much less cost.
West Grove, PA:
What do you believe is the best solution for caring for the retired race horse?
We should start caring. For we, I mean the horseracing industry. As it stands now, the majority of work in the retirement area of our stars is being done by those outside of the industry. Racehorses should not be shipped off our racetracks by dealers to horse auctions. I visited New Holland a few times and have seen the horses that have been dumped there. Some ran within a few days of their arrival. Western saddles are slapped on their back and they are ridden through the ring (the lucky ones). Those not ridden, not so lucky. If it was not for the rescues in attendance (non-industry affiliated rescues) then all these horses would be slaughtered. We are fortunate for the hard work of a few compassionate people. I did read the other day that the racing secretary at Philadelphia Park was considering some kind of sanctions for connections of horses that are discovered in this predicament. That is cool!
West Grove, PA:
Do you think the Polytracks are safer than the dirt?
Yes I do. Polytrack is one brand of synthetic surfaces. So when you say Polytrack I would include each of the brands. I love Tapeta (Fair Hill and Presque Isle).
Calgary, Alberta Canada:
How is Woodbine treating you and will we see Curlin in a grass stake there?
Woodbine is very cool. I am really enjoying myself. Love the track. There is a chance Curlin will come. My understanding of the current situation is, if he works well on the grass he will run in one prep race in North America and then go to Europe. Woodbine has a wonderful turf course and will be considered for that one prep race. I have my fingers crossed!
West Grove, PA:
Do you miss Fair Hill and will you return?
YES! I love Fair Hill, the people, the environment my dog and cats. I spent 20 years there. I will return, but not sure when and for how long.
Sea Cliff, NY:
Dear Alex, thanks always for the excellent reporting and bringing to the fore issues that will only improve horse racing and the conditions for these magnificent creatures and also uplift the training and ownership standards of accountability. First, I would like to know how can Churchill Downs make their track safer and less hard? Secondly, I noted that in the recent breakdowns June 21 at Churchill, the press releases gave one or two lines at the very end to the horse and its fate. What is it going to take to change this? Thirdly; why treat backstretch workers poorly denying them basic rights of comfort and stability when they handle their precious investments and the horse would be better served with good energy around them therefore run better.
Churchill Downs controls the depth of their racetrack easily. Watering and packing the track makes it harder. Using 2 inch harrows instead of 4 inch etc. The reality is, we want speed. We want track records. That increases the prestige of the race. It does not increase the safety for the horse. Very sad really. I was sad to read the June 21 article you reference for two reasons. Firstly I agree with you, I think the loss of a horse should be at least as important as the injury to a jockey. Secondly I galloped Vinstar a few times in Houston. I really don't have a comment on the backstretch worker issue. Not that I don't agree, I just am not familiar so much with the issue.
Hi Alex: Thanks so very much for all you've done the past two years--first running TWR and now ABR. I'm sure Barbaro if he could speak would also thank you for keeping us so well informed everyday of his welfare. Will you be at Delaware Park in July?
It's most likely I won't be at Delaware Park to celebrate in July. I am also excited about that though. At some point I won't be around. I want this project to survive my departure whenever that may happen. It is great to see organization for an event such as the one in July being independent of my involvement.
As an animal rights advocate I believe that an animal has a right to proper medical treatment. Do you feel that it is more humane to treat a horse that has arthritis with an anti-inflammatory the day before a race or to potentially make them suffer? Also what are your feelings on Lasix- isn't it better to prevent bleeding (as Pascoe's 1985 study proves Lasix stops bleeding in a majority of cases) or to make a horse suffer and bleed as Jack Van Berg suggests?
Fundamentally I side with Jack Van Berg. Drugs should be eliminated from the sport. If a horse has a problem, it needs a break so the problem can be fixed the right way.
Toms River, NJ:
Do you think racing is any safer since Barbaro's tragic death? What do you think horseman and track officials can do to improve safety over all?
I do not think racing is yet any safer. I do however think the public discussion regarding horse welfare that Barbaro helped stimulate, and the sad breakdown of Eight Belles, has combined to the arrival of a tipping point. We will now see some significant changes. Safer tracks, elimination of steroids. Whip rule, its enforcement. Just a start.
Alex, with your experiences and observations at various tracks around the country and your comments in your last blog on The Rail, what do you consider the #1 problem with the racing industry?
Organizationally, we need leadership! A Racing Czar I guess is the appropriate label. Changes to benefit horses can then follow.
There's so much to be done regarding equine welfare, where do you think energy should be focused towards initially?
Ending horse slaughter for sure. In the meantime creating assurances than our racing stars are not sent to slaughter. Sounds simple, very hard to achieve.
Why would someone who is so concerned about horses' welfare openly admit to working for Steve Asmussen? Steve has even been featured on HBO's "Real Sports" for allegedly having anything but the horses' welfare in mind.
I admit it because it is true. I work for Steve. I am grateful for Steve for giving me a platform to explore issues related to Texas, and now Canada. I have not yet had the opportunity to sit down with Steve and talk about all the stuff I am working on, but I do hope he knows what I am doing and he knows how grateful I am for his indirect support. His assistant, Darren Fleming who hired me, does know what I am doing and has also been very helpful giving me contact information of people I have needed when trying to contact horses we want to help retire. He has supported me in other ways as well.
Fort Erie, Ontario, Canada:
What do you suggest that the caring general public do to help the cause of horse welfare?
I think the general public should make it known that horse slaughter is simply unacceptable. Our horses serve us, whether in sports, work or leisure. We simply should not betray them at the end of their lives for a couple of bucks.
In 2007 there was 125 stallions that bred 100-199 mares each. For the sake of the unwanted horses, are there too many horses being bred ?
Many argue that the root cause of "unwanted horses" is irresponsible breeding. Certainly I think we do have some reckless breeding practices that are designed to seek out the one big win versus worrying about the life cycle of all horses bred. To that end, I think breeders should take more responsibility of horses that they have bred, which could manifest in some kind of "tax" which goes to an escrow account that supports retiring horses and humane euthanasia programs.
I see a new problem arising. There seems to be a plethora of rescue farms popping up around the country. Before they get out of hand should there not be a registry of rescue farms? Like charities, one hates to donate and see only a small amount of the revenue going to the cause. How do we separate the wheat from the chaff?
I am not sure how you separate wheat from chaff. I do not think being a 501 3 c guarantees a rescue is legitimate. I would also say that getting into rescue is not trivial and thus I don't think people get into rescue to deliberately scam. That being said, some people get over their heads and while they may have compassion for their animals, they are either not true horse people or are not true business people. You need to be both to run an effective rescue I think.
What is a toe grab?
It's a little piece of steel inserted into the front of the shoe (front shoes) and is about a quarter of an inch. Basically it gives the horse additional traction. With that traction you lose the flexibility provided by a little bit of sliding. Problems can occur. Not good to have toe grabs on synthetic surfaces.
Have you ever ridden Curlin? If so, what was he like to ride? What is his personality like off the track?
Not yet! Seriously there is little to no chance I will ride Curlin. I have been told though he is a very cool and calm horse. Super professional.
What is your take on all this steroid talk? Do you think they need to go or do you think they are ok? Also I am young and I would like to be an exercise rider after I get out of college. Do you have any advice?
I do not think steroids, both anabolic and cortisone (injected into joints), have any place in our sport, sales etc. My advice, make sure you stay in college (I did and its opened many doors for me) and if you still want to be an exercise rider when you graduate, then enjoy it. It's hard to give real advice without knowing your level of riding. Before being an exercise rider myself, I was a (very poor) point to point jockey in the UK.
Vero Beach, FL:
Alex, I have a retired Standardbred trotter (from the track -- he was too slow). I started to ride him and train him to have a rider on his back, when he was 5. He's done everything very well, but he does not go into the right lead cantering to the right. What is the best way to train him to do that or should I just let him stay in the left lead?
Sadly I am not so familiar with Standardbreds. From my own experience, if a horse does not take a lead, that usually means there is a problem for the horse.
Do you think Barbaro was a truly great racehorse?
Yes I do. It is very sad that his career was cut short, there was so much more he could have done. His Kentucky Derby win was sensational by any measure. The winning distance, the time of the last quarter, the ease with which he ran the race and so forth. Barbaro also won on a fast dirt track, the slop and the turf. Some argue he was at his best on the turf. An incredible statement when you consider his Derby performance. Yes, I think he was a truly great racehorse.
Is there a way to track the old "war horses" who are now running in cheap claimers, in order to keep an eye on them for safe retirement eventually?
I have actually worked with the Daily Racing Form to produce a query that provides me a list of horses that have run for $5k claiming or lower, that have made more than $500,000. I then took each horse's name and put them on my watch list (also from DRF). Now each time one runs I can see how it runs etc. A few of us have tried to buy and retire a couple of these guys.
Hi Alex, do you think with the rising cost of fuel making an economic impact on everything that has to with horses, do you think we will be able to ensure that horses do not go starving?
I think if you own a horse, you need to have the disposable income that allows you to afford its upkeep. This should take into account rising fuel costs, rising hay costs and so forth. Horses are never cheap.
Hi Alex. Do you think it is foreseeable and possible that members of the community you have so generously fostered through the past two years, could form a coalition for rescue and welfare? Something along the lines of Exceller but regionalized and administered by locals, who would then be administered by a board or "home office"?
I have, from time-to-time, wondered about making our "organization" formal. Each time I have determined it would not work. Why? I think the reason why we have such a strong community of generous people focused on horse welfare is there is not one person (or board) dictating where money is going. Each "member" makes up his or her own mind. If I was to collect money centrally, and then determine where to distribute the money, I would disenfranchise rescues who did not receive funding and potential contributors who did not see their favorite rescue receive funding.
That being said, for an organization such as we are, we are quite well organized on important issues such as horse slaughter. We have state teams. We have a national calling strategy that is updated daily. As someone who used to work at the Wharton School, I am actually quite fascinated about how it appears to "work". I have frequently asked Knowledge at Wharton to do a case study of us!
Hi Alex, hope you are doing well. I have two questions: 1) Talk about your feelings those times you got to graze and groom Barbaro when he was at New Bolton; 2) Do you still keep in touch with Jacksons?
I did end up helping out a little with Barbaro during the winter of 2006. It was a privilege. Treasured moments I will never forget. Barbaro was a wonderful horse, and his time at New Bolton for the most part were good days and wonderful care. It was great to be a very small part of that. I am still in touch with the people at New Bolton Center and made some very good friends there. I am also in touch with the Jacksons. Less often now that I am in Canada and my phone is very expensive, but we exchange e-mail and so forth. I think our relationship is such that direct connection is not necessary, but always welcome when the opportunity presents itself. Wonderful human beings.
S Orange, NJ:
Alex, does anyone keep records of any kind of the weights carried by horses during workouts? Or are there any records to let one know whether a horse was ridden by a raceday jockey or an exercise rider during a workout?
No! And therein lies one of the many problems of relying on work outs to gauge how good a horse is.
Alex, please give us your opinion on IEAH coming out and saying no race day drugs in our horses (except Lasix)? Are they just blowing smoke? Or, is this the way to force the issue with other owners?
This is a very interesting development I only read about this morning. Personally I would not be a fan of a hedge fund approach to racehorse ownership BUT this position they are taking is very interesting. A friend of mine wanted to start a racing partnership along the same lines, guaranteeing none of the horses received drugs. We decided the downside was people would know our horses could be moved up if claimed and then put on appropriate drugs! Of course IEAH likely does not run too many claimers. Anyway, it's a positive step forward I think.
Glen Arm, MD:
I want to commend you on helping to spread awareness about the problem of horse slaughter. Do you think microchipping all TBs and requiring microchip readers at all auctions would help fight this problem?
Sure. There is an interesting development in the EU where they require all slaughter-bound horses to be micro-chipped and drug free at the time of slaughter. Read about it here. Oddly they do not seem to care about importing horse meat from North America and Mexico which cannot provide the same guarantees! In France, the France Galop has initiated a program that allows connections of a horse to specify the horse cannot go to slaughter. They have initiated their own rescue program, L.F.P.C. I think we need to look into programs like this.
Are the Thoroughbreds who come off the track ever sound enough to have a second career as say event horses or jumpers? What is the best way to go about finding a good prospect?
Sure. Thoroughbreds can make wonderful event horses and so forth. Obviously some are no longer sound and likely can at best live out their lives as "pasture pets". But there are many who, with a little time for transitioning, would do well in other careers. Recently we have worked on an OTTB (Off Track Thoroughbred) branding project. This is designed to create better awareness as to the flexibility of our off track horses, as well as provide access to all OTTB rehab farms so people can seek them out. Obviously much more work needs to be done in this area, especially as we push harder to end the prospect of slaughter for our stars.
I read in the NY Times rail blog that you're not a fan of Kent Desormeaux. I'd be interested in a more elaborate explanation because I've become a big fan of his since his move to NY, and I think he's an excellent grass jockey.
I don't know Kent personally, and I am told he is a great guy. I just think he has had big race lapses in the past. I was a huge Fusaichi Pegasus fan and I don't think Kent did him justice. That being said, he's won many more races than me. I went 0 for 50 I think!
Walnut Creek, CA:
What has been the most challenging aspect of managing the "Fans Of Barbaro" online community?
Now that's an interesting question. As someone who has taught Internet Marketing for ten years, this project is a "dream" for me. But there have been significant challenges and I have made some wrong decisions along the way. I have also made some serious enemies, only one of whom I think is openly pro-slaughter, the rest are anti-slaughter. Kind of odd really. I guess the greatest challenge has been to simply not mess everything up. Any day I could do something that unravels this project. My greatest "future" challenge I think will be to try to ensure this work can continue without my direct involvement. I think it is dangerous to have a project that relies on one person in order to continue.
Hi Alex: how do you respond to people who say that because slaughter has stopped in the U.S., it has lead to many more abandoned horses and that if slaughter is stopped completely (that is the transport of horses from the U.S. to other countries), that this country won't be able to deal with the large number of unwanted and abandoned horses we will have?
I actually wrote an essay on this topic. Basically there is no real evidence that there are more horses abandoned or starving as there were when there were domestic slaughter houses. Sadly we have always had neglect and abuse cases. Just now it's convenient to blame those cases on lack of domestic slaughter by those who want to reopen slaughter houses in the US (horses are now shipped to Canada and Mexico for Slaughter).
I make recommendations at the end of my essay in terms of what I think we need to do to manage our equine industry without slaughter. Not tough recommendations either, very manageable stuff.
Since you've had experience riding on 2 different synthetic surfaces, which do you prefer and why? Also do you have a feel for what other horsemen think about each of the 2 surfaces?
I really like Tapeta, but my judgment might be clouded. I know Michael Dickinson, its inventor, well. He bought me over to the States 20 years ago. The feedback from the Presque Isle meet has been positive. Having said that, I like Poly fine. I prefer any of these surfaces to a dirt surface. Some horsemen hate synthetic surfaces, they change how horses need to train and a different type of horse moves up on the surface. I have not heard too many bad things from riders though.
Bossier City, LA:
PETA wants to ban the whips from horseracing. Would you agree with this move?
No. Sadly PETA illustrates clearly they do not understand horse racing by the issues they decide to go after. As far as the whip I do agree things need to change. I have seen many horses finish last, with their jockeys still hitting them. Why? And why are these jockeys not called in front of the stewards, fined and the actions made public? The whip does have a time and place. But I do think once you have hit a horse two or three times appropriately, it is time to put it down and ride. Be a horseman.
Lately, PETA has been fired up about type racing industry. But a lot of people from PETA say that they don't want to shut down horseracing, but rather change things. For example, they want to change the age of racing horses, they want synthetic racing surfaces to be installed, etc. Do you agree with any of PETA's changes?
Sure. But it's their approach that does not work for me. If we want to make changes in our industry, we need to make those changes within the industry ourselves with the necessary help of real leadership.
Alex, are there any programs in Canada for off track thoroughbreds, that you would like to see in other countries?
When I arrived at Woodbine I really did not know anything about Canada and the work to support retired thoroughbreds. I was very pleasantly surprised to discover LongRun right here on the track, getting direct support from Woodbine. It may have been the first such program in North America (Finger Lakes now has a program supported by the front office etc.)
I also soon discovered phase2thoroughbreds which is essentially a bloodstock agent type model, at Fort Erie. Very cool. I am actually quite intrigued by this for-profit model.
Recently I heard about a program out at Hastings, New Stride.
It is great to see that horses here in Canada are getting some support. And it does seem that the racing community is committed to supporting these organizations.
In steeplechase racing, the horses go 2+ miles and carry 150 lbs. Do you think that this is animal cruelty? Why or why not?
No way! Are you kidding? One of the reasons horses live longer and are not shuttled off to slaughter from the racetrack in the UK (OK, slight exaggeration, horses are not stabled at racetracks in the UK) is because they can have a second career as a Steeplechaser. It's a great sport!
The Kentucky papers have reported more cases of abuse and starvation of horses this year than I have ever seen. Is this a local phenomenon or nationwide? Do you think it has anything to do with owners now being unable to dispose of unwanted horses?
I do not think this is an issue other than we are more aware and cases are being reported more widely. Some cases are hearsay when you really read the details of the articles in question. It's sad that I have come to learn some of the "tricks" of the pro-slaughter lobby.
As an exercise rider, how often have you had a horse break down underneath you? I've seen statistics that show more horses break down in races. Is a morning breeze that much slower than afternoon racing times that it would account for fewer breakdowns?
It has happened to me once. I felt sick. I breezed the horse and when he was galloping out his stride shortened noticeably. When I pulled him up there was a problem. I got off. Fortunately while there was a fracture the horse had surgery and actually ran again. That being said, it was an awful feeling at the time. Thankfully now I do not breeze horses. I just do the galloping. There are fewer breakdowns in the morning as far as I have observed, but that's just anecdotal.
New Hope, PA:
I want to know more about how the designer steroid drugs work. I understand bute and I understand how that can help a horse but can you explain why anyone would inject some of the stuff that we humans can not take into a horse?
I am no expert on this I am glad to say. I know snake venom is supposed to be a great pain killer and somewhat undetectable in a drug test. I guess that is an example ?
Grand Rapids, MI:
I would like your opinion on (i.e., Big Brown) running a horse in a 1 1/2 mile race with a quarter crack and one workout in three weeks. Also, what's your take on this new "shoe-gate" business for the Belmont - that Big Brown shied from the starter on the track and had a shoe pulled loose by the horse next to him. Do you think those two things were the major contributors to his defeat?
One workout in 3 weeks is absolutely no problem I am sure. The horse was coming off two races in two weeks. Even if he had a completely uninterrupted training program between the Preakness and Belmont he may only have had one work. The quarter crack, I am not sure if that was an issue, only because I do not know as much about quarter cracks as perhaps I should. I certainly have a lot of faith in the Big Brown team so I imagine that was not a problem.
I do think the first part of the race led to Big Brown's defeat. I do not really know what caused the problems in the first part of the race, it all just looked very ugly.
Who are some of the favorite horses you've ridden? The best? The sweetest? Was George Washington at Fair Hill? Was he his irascible self there or was that more of a function of racing?
George Washington (bred by the Jackson's) was never at Fair Hill so I only know him by reputation. Georgeous George!
This year I rode Student Council (once) and Golden Hare (once) while at Sam Houston Race Park. That was very cool. My favorite two of Steve Asmussen's horses though that I have ridden are Chromedoll and Poni Colada. Just fun to ride. Probably my favorite horse at Fair Hill was the "high-stepping" Nautical Agent. A very kind filly, trained by Tim Woolley. Hawty Creek, she was cool too. The reality is, I love riding horses. The only one I really did not get along with over the last 20 years was a filly named What a Country. I bred her! Her mother was nuts. I used to gallop her mother!
Hi, Alex. Thanks for the time. I'd like to see more Turf racing in the US. What are your thoughts on Turf vs. the synthetics?
Yes, I love turf racing. Sadly turf cannot stand up to too much racing and the way we run meets in the US we have to be very conservative with the use of the turf so we can take care of it. Turf racing works in Europe as each "meet" is only a few days and then the turf gets a while to recover for the next meet.
Alex I have been following horse racing for nearly 23 years now and there's one thing I've never found out - how do riders signal for a horse to change leads?
Ha! I wrote something on this for the New York Times. It is here.
Is Steve Asmussen as intense as he looks on TV?
I think so, although I have not spent too much time with Steve. I think you need that level of intensity in order to manage the operation that Steve manages. He is 24/7 as far as I can tell, very focused.
If you're galloping a horse, and it doesn't respond, as you, or your instructions dictate, do you pull that horse up?
No. You pull a horse up for two reasons. The most common: you think you are about to get run-off-with so you pull up to avoid that situation. Secondly if you think there is something wrong with the horse you pull it up.
Alex, will we see a book from you based on your experiences any time soon?
No. Certainly not anytime soon. I had initially planned to write a book, and fortunately the Jackons supported the initiative by providing me a contract for authorization etc. Very cool. I wrote a proposal but could not get a publishing deal. No worries. The work I am doing now would not allow me the time to also write a book. When it's all over I may revisit the book idea, but my energies are focused solely on the web-sites I run, galloping horses and doing what I can regarding horse welfare. I have taken up writing articles, some have been published which is cool.
My question is, when did you get into blogging?
Probably six years ago. I still update my first blog from time to time. It gets about three visits per day! I taught internet marketing for a number of years at the University of Delaware and had my students blog as part of class projects and so forth. I also used blogging in my work at the Wharton School in MBA admissions. I just love the transparent aspect of the medium. Very democratic and disruptive to the status quo.
Santa Barbara, CA:
Alex I have read that Steve Asmussen does not want to run Curlin in the Breeders Cup at Santa Anita because of the synthetic surface. Do you think that horses will adjust to a synthetic track if they are trained on them or that some horses will never like these surfaces?
I had not heard he did not run because of the surface at Santa Anita, but more because he wanted to run Curlin in Europe and on grass, a surface he has yet to try. Truly great horses can run on any surface. Barbaro won on dirt, slop and grass in his short career.
What is best about Woodbine compared to the other tracks you have worked?
The female jockey colony.
Dear Alex, Do you think the training methods of Casino Drive's connections might make their way into American training?
Sadly I doubt it. The methods are more akin to European training I think. Long walk before training and after and so forth. Here we need to get many sets out in a limited time. In Europe riders ride fewer horses for a longer time.
Do you think large racing stables (ie. Pletcher, Asmussen, Romans...etc.) are detrimental to the welfare of these wonderful horses?
Since I work for one of the stables you cite then I have to say no! If the large stable has a very capable assistant, who can do the work of a trainer, at each of their barns (we have about eight or so strings I think) then it can work. Of course this assumes the assistant and trainer have a strong working relationship. It also helps if the trainer is intensely focused and on top of things. It does depend on the people for sure.
Hi Alex, What is your opinion on Jockeys who don't exercise their mounts and only ride them on race day?
This is quite common. Edgar Prado only rode Barbaro in races. A professional Jockey should be very able to get on a horse that he or she has not ridden before and give the horse a perfect ride. Lots of planning and research before the race helps too. Even Jockeys that do ride horses that they race, only ride them in their works. They do not do the day-to-day galloping. That is for people like me to do!
Pismo Beach, CA:
In your opinion as a rider, should the Starter be standing inside the track or outside when he gives the start?
Never thought about it. As long as the starter has a good view of the horses in the gate, and is not in a place that might "spook" the horses, then he is in a good place. I guess it helps if the Jockeys can see the starter too.
Since your site has raised so much money for horse rescue, what are the things someone who would like to donate to a horse rescue look for in deciding that an organization is legitimate?
I think the best advice is to go local. Support an organization you can visit and help out with also. Aside from that, rescues build reputations over time. You can then start to trust those reputations.
In terms of Thoroughbred Rescues you might also look to see if they have received funding from Thoroughbred Charities of America (TCA). TCA scrutinizes rescues as part of their process which is a good thing. There are a couple of legitimate reasons a thoroughbred rescue might not be supported by a TCA grant though. They might not have applied, or they might not actually be a 501 3 c charity. Of course donating to a 501 3 c charity provides you some assurances, but there are very legitimate private rescues out there, and some not so stellar 501 3 cs perhaps!
I read in Europe each horse has its own Passport so he/she can be kept track of. Would this work in the US?
Each race horse has Jockey Club papers. These are required while they are racing, and I guess breeding. Sadly they are not required for anything else. Yes, I think a passport that needs to be with a horse at all times can be very useful, that or some type of microchipping I guess. I think the EU is now requiring horses that are slaughtered to have the passport, and if there is information in the passport that stops the horse from being slaughtered (drug information or a note from its connections) it cannot be slaughtered. With no passport, there is no information.
How do training methods differ in other countries from the United States?
I can only talk about the difference between North American training now and UK training 20 years ago. Basically here we train on racetracks. In the UK you train on farms. In the UK it's more tranquil and you take more time. Here it's a bit of a rush. Overall horses might gallop similar distances and work similarly to get fit, but here we are obsessed with the clock. In the UK we are more concerned with how the horse goes. Training on dirt here. Turf in the UK. Training up inclines in the UK, some riding on roads and across fields. Here pretty much only on the tracks (although Fair Hill does offer a more European-type environment).
What do you think of the use of whips in horse racing especially after the Jeremy Rose incident?
The Jeremy Rose incident was appalling. If there was intent then it was non-defensible. If it was an accident then that's a problem too.
We have some whip rules here, but they need to be enforced. The rules need to be tightened, and more akin to the European rules. We also need to explore a kinder whip. I do believe the whip is a necessary tool when in the right hands.
Racing in Texas seems to have lost its way since it held the Breeders' Cup. Can you compare working at Sam Houston with working at Churchill Downs and Keeneland.
I did enjoy working in Texas. The track was a little quieter than the very hectic Churchill Downs. It's also a superior dirt surface. I met some cool people and find myself now trying to keep up with Paul Nolan's exploits and so forth. The nice thing about Houston was it was pretty easy to get to know most people quickly.
It is clear that Texas needs slots if it is going to compete with its neighboring racing jurisdictions.
Alex, Where did you get that FOB cap you are wearing in the picture on this site?
Sadly my mind is drawing a blank. I am also wondering where the cap is!
Since no racing jurisdiction can test for pain killer Cobra Venom which is 1,000 times stronger than morphine, do you think pre race security detention barns must be implemented at all race tracks?
I don't know, but certainly some type of system needs to be designed to ensure trainers cannot cheat.
San Clemente, CA:
Alex, Thanks for the time... Question: Steve Asmussen uses a martingale when racing his horses. What, if any are the advantages to that? How does it help?
It's a neckstrap (see the second question at the beginning of this chat for an example). It is something the jockey can hold on to when the horse breaks out of the gate. Better than getting unbalanced and leaning too much on the bit. Whether the jockeys use them or not, there is no harm in having one available. We also braid all our runners' manes. The jockeys then unbraid the first three or four so they can hold on to the main too!
If the transport for horse slaughter ban bills, HR503 and S311 are not passed this legislative session in Congress, what other tactics could be used to get these bills passed? For example, if Congress mandates a national racing regulating authority, could a requirement to outlaw slaughter for racers be part of the National Racing Commission's by-laws and standards of practices?
I am a big believer that we need to attack the slaughter issue on all fronts. I am firmly against horse slaughter and committed to trying to end the practice. Of course within that broader issue, I am focused on thoroughbreds. So if we cannot put a ban in place on the Federal level this year I think we need to put more pressure on the racing industry to put things in place to ensure race horses cannot go to slaughter. My understanding is that the NTRA supports of HR 503 and S311. I have heard Alex Waldrop state so in recent interviews. I think it is time to put that support into meaningful action.
I also think we need to work on the issue in Canada and Mexico, since that is where our horses are being shipped for slaughter. This is one reason why I am in Canada.
Does European racing have a claiming system like North America?
The claiming systems are very different. They also have a handicap system that is more robust than the handicap system in the US. I have always thought the claiming system here was simply a design of convenience, but sadly is not very good for the horses that trickle down through the system.
Charles Town, WV:
What are your thoughts on using Banamine 2 days prior to racing, for the purpose of anti-inflammation.
I am not an expert, so while I know of the drug, I am not sure how it differs from other pain killing drugs, i.e. why you would use one over the other. Sorry, I really have no clue.
The Internet has spurred an explosion of expression - much of it negative toward horse racing. Has the Industry failed in its marketing efforts?
I think the industry has failed in its marketing efforts. I am not sure if that failure is related to the internet, or if the internet is a small part of some much larger failures. Who is our target audience? Do we know? Are we simply a gambling platform targeted to horse players?
Wouldn't it benefit the Industry to pick 1 synthetic racing surface and go with it?
I assume gamblers and handicappers would prefer this. And maybe with time this is what will happen. When products are new you tend to get competition. Competition is good for product innovation. Personally I don't see a lot of difference between Poly and Tapeta, the two surfaces with which I have had experience. I am sure some others will say there are differences though.
El Paso, TX:
Is there really such a thing as an "unwanted" race horse?
Sadly yes. I have been to the kill auctions and seen them. Typical scenario: Horse runs during the week. Runs poorly. Horse is at auction the following week via the horse dealer on the backside. It is either bought by a rescue or for slaughter. I have seen both outcomes. Very sad.
Thanks for all you have done in making alexbrownracing.com an information and communication resource and gathering place for FOBs. I love the new Wiki on OTTBS and their new careers. What aspects of the site and its community are you proudest of?
Thanks for mentioning the Wiki and our OTTB Marketing Project: http://alexbrownracing.com/wiki/index.php/OTTBs . The wiki has been a lot of my focus lately. I want to build out what is essentially a knowledge-base of all things horse racing and horse welfare. Yesterday I was working on creating better information on Feedlots and Slaughter houses for example. I am a big believer in that we need to know all the detail of the slaughter process if we are to be truly effective in our work.
How did Barbaro change your outlook about the racing industry and horse welfare issues? Where you interested and active in these issues before Barbaro?
Before Barbaro I had worked in horse racing on and off for close to twenty years. I really did not think much about horse welfare issues other than being a good steward of the horses I was working with on a day to day basis. I had heard of slaughter, assumed it was necessary, and never bothered more about it. Now I know it is not necessary and is not appropriate on many levels.
LAST UPDATED: 1:58 P.M. (ET)
Editor's Note: BloodHorse.com moderators retain editorial control over Talkin' Horses discussions and choose the most relevant questions for guests; guests may decline to answer questions. Opinions expressed by guests of Talkin' Horses are those of the guest and do not represent the opinions of Blood-Horse Publications, its employees, associates, or affiliated organizations. Guests, dates, and times of Talkin' Horses discussions are subject to change.