Horse Racing Handicapping and Fear and Loathing, Going Gonzo for Speed

Guest Writer: Bill Peterson
When he wrote his 1970 article, "The Kentucky Derby is Decadent and Depraved," Hunter S. Thompson was writing about the lewd, drunken, drug laced parties in the infield and the culture that seemed to surround horse racing. He spent his time with the partiers in the infield and those who partied for several days before the big event and finally he and Ralph Steadman, who provided sketches for the piece, realized that, we have enemy and it is us.


In other words, partying and drinking and using drugs suited the famous writer and originator of Gonzo journalism right down to the soles of his feet.That may have skewed his vision of horse racing a little because horse racing fans are a mixed bag ranging from the two dollar bettor who is a tee totaler all the way up to the swells in the clubhouse and covering all layers of the social strata. You can't characterize horse players or race goers as drinkers or non drinkers and you can't put a label on them other than to say if you looked through the entire race going, horse betting public, you could probably find just about any kind of person you could imagine and probably a few species that haven't been classified yet.

Unfortunately, as time goes by, we are finding more and more that drugs are playing a bigger and more significant role in the training and conditioning of horses. If Mr. Thompson was following and writing about horse racing today, I'm certain he'd have plenty to say about the drugs being used to enhance the horse's performance and to cheat bettors. That's what it is, by the way. When you do something against the rules or the law in horse racing it is a crime and should be treated as such. Real money is involved and also the public's trust.

It all stems from the Gonzo quest for speed. Like pages numbered and pulled from a notebook, trainers, snatch at this and that trying desperately to win. The idea that horses just need good food, water, exercise and some good handling to become successful race horses has gone the way of the ten cent cigar. It is all based on financial survival and that is because things are skewed, the playing field is not level.

How can good honest horse conditioners compete against the crooks with their juiced up runners? Some trainers confess that they loathe the idea of using performance enhancing drugs, but they fear financial ruin if they don't win. The honest trainers can't fix it. The horse players can't fix it, they can only drop out and go and try to find another game. The only ones who can do anything about this are the authorities and they have to come down hard and fast and that means that when the cheaters are caught they have to be dealt with severely.

Here's an idea, how about treating fraud and theft like the crimes that they are? Instead of a slap on the wrist a lifetime ban and then a trip to criminal court to face charges? It will hurt horse racing at first but when the game is cleaned up we'll stop the hemorrhaging and stop losing horse players. They say there's no such thing as bad publicity and that may be true. Maybe a nationwide campaign to clean up horse racing and lots of headlines about how the industry it getting its act together is just what we need.

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