While the horse racing industry is still grappling with the aftereffects of the COVID-19 pandemic—and locally, Saratoga’s racetrack is gearing up for what could be a summer without spectators—we must not ignore the fact that we could lose the sport for entirely different reasons. The time is now to save horse racing, and it will require leadership, innovation, entrepreneurship, collaboration and a lot of money.
As a retired veterinarian and past president of the New York State Veterinary Medical Society, I am shocked and saddened by the federal criminal indictments of 27 people involved in the horse racing industry this past March. Regrettably, some of these indictments included veterinarians.
Everyone in the racing industry, especially veterinarians, has an ethical obligation to assure all animals are treated humanely and afforded the proper husbandry and care. Sadly, greed and malice have been tolerated for too long in the racing industry. It is a majestic sport that has lost all sense of institutional accountability for the equine athlete.
Residing in Saratoga Springs, being a veterinarian and working in the world of business communication, innovation and entrepreneurship, I have taken a keen, if not compulsive, interest in this evolving problem. Since last summer—and even during the current crisis—I have been investigating how to collaboratively, scientifically and programmatically improve the health and care of the equine athlete, at scale: Specifically, to reduce racehorse mortality, introduce technological advancements and repair what is currently an escalating nightmare. This is not an easy task considering the fragmented nature of the industry, insidious mistrust, lack of coordinated governance and a history of late adoption of innovation and new ideas.
To paraphrase Albert Einstein, you cannot solve your problems with the same thinking you used to create them. With that admonition, I am recommending a program called “Equine Innovation Link.” It is designed to deconstruct and redesign the ecosystem currently malfunctioning as the “horse racing industry.” I have been in collaborative conversation with the Jockey Club, prominent attorneys in the racing industry, industry-respected veterinarians, trainers, racetrack owners and deans from five US veterinary colleges. All are seriously concerned and impacted by this current debacle. Additionally, I have been in collaboration with IBM Data Scientists and the Wharton Business School to comprehensively address this crisis.
For the past five years, veterinary governance, universities, pharmaceutical companies and practices have espoused the necessity for an “entrepreneurial mindset,” as we face the innovative and disruptive challenges of the future. I believe that we are facing an immediate disruptive challenge in horse racing, which is agnostic to the current crisis and could justifiably lead to our losing the sport completely. Now is the time to take this much-talked-about entrepreneurial mindset and construct a new paradigm to breed, raise, train, race and humanely retire the equine athlete.
In response to Einstein’s admonition, this problem can be solved only with diverse creative minds, an entrepreneurial mindset, leadership and collaboration. Of course, it will also require significant funding to accomplish these goals expeditiously and effectively. Money should be the least consideration. This is the Sport of Kings! Living in Saratoga, I can personally attest to the fact that there are resources available to address this problem, provided all parties look beyond personal agendas, egos, tribalism, greed and personal advancement.
Why am I writing this letter? This is a time for action and leadership. This is not a time for committees, study groups, et cetera. It is the time to recruit entrepreneurial problem-solvers and design thinkers, and to raise money. This majestic sport will be saved only by introducing innovation, technology, data analytics and machine learning into the daily operations surrounding the husbandry of the equine athlete, from foaling through retirement. With dedicated, smart, innovative minds, we can change the trajectory and restore the reputation and integrity of this wonderful sport.
Ken Rotondo, DVM, MBA
Mind Genomics Advisors