Friday, February 23, 2018

You're only human (second wind)

Of course, the big story.  I forgot that when writing the last chapter - the non-declared wind-operation which the 25/1 winner at Newcastle had undergone.  Why on earth wasn't the horse disqualified?  Or, rather, if (as seems to be the case, as I understand it) the trainer informed the stewards a short while before the race that he had omitted to declare the wind-operation, why was the horse allowed to run?  The closest parallel I can think of is a horse running in blinkers which hadn't been declared.  Under that scenario, the horse would automatically be disqualified.  Or if it was discovered beforehand that he was wearing undeclared blinkers (and if they couldn't be removed so there was no option of him running without them) he wouldn't be allowed to run.

Is this a fair analogy, especially as one could argue that whether a horse has had a wind operation since his latest run could be at least as influential a factor as whether or not he is wearing blinkers?  Similarly, if a horse is found to have carried 3lb more or 3lb less than was intended, then he's disqualified - and a wind operation can have a lot more influence on the horse's performance than a few pounds more or less.  Overall, that the horse was neither scratched beforehand nor disqualified subsequently is inexplicable.  And the fact that this debacle ever came about is inexcusable.  Omitting to notify the authorities that a horse has had a wind operation isn't a split-second oversight; you have weeks to lodge the notification, and it only takes a minute.  I know that I generally rail against the stiffness of penalties handed out to trainers, but a fine of less than what one would have won by putting a tenner each way on the horse was ludicrous.

It has been pointed out to me that, rather than the blinkers analogy, an alternative parallel would be if a horse had been gelded and had been declared as a colt, in which case he would be allowed to run and wouldn't be disqualified.  The line of thinking was that this suggests that the horse with the undeclared wind operation should be allowed to run and shouldn't be disqualified.  However, I would look at it the other way round, and suggest that we should perhaps re-assess whether we are too permissive of a horse's gender being misdescribed.  I'd feel that a horse ought to match up to his description of pedigree, age and gender (colour is less important) to be eligible to run.  There has to be a point at which you say that the horse in front of you does not match the description of the horse on the race-card, and I would say that pedigree, year-of-birth and gender should be prerequisites.

Still, the whole wind thing is too cocked up anyway.  We've been having this interminable debate about whether wind-operations should be declared, when it shouldn't even be up for discussion: it should be axiomatic that they're declared.  There's a massive reason for their being declared (that such a move is very popular with punters) and there's no downside.  But, inexplicably, the debate which we should have been having, ie whether horses should be allowed to run after having had wind-operations, has never happened.  I find that so odd.  Or maybe I don't: one never needs to look too hard to find a reminder that ethics are a minority interest in the current age.

Wind-operations are permissible and, while I doubt that there would be more than a couple done to horses in this stable during a decade, we're going to have one done next month to Wasted Sunsets.  If they're allowed, why not take advantage when it seems expedient?  But, in truth, it makes no sense, in a jurisdiction which makes a great play out of banning anabolic steroids, to allow horses to run after having had wind-operations.  There isn't much difference - both are performance-enhancing and unnatural scientific treatments aimed at changing a horse from his/her natural state to a state in which, it is hoped, he/she might be able to run faster for longer than nature intended.  The only real difference is that a course of anabolic steroids is less performance-enhancing than a wind operation potentially might be, and does less damage to the horse.

And that's not the limit of the lack of logic attached to the current rules.  A tie-back or tie-forward is permitted and a hobday operation is permitted, but using a nasal strip (a strip of tape stuck pulled tight across the top of the nose to, some hope, enlarge temporarily the area of the opening of the nostrils and thus allow more air to be taken in per breath) isn't.  Where's the sense in that?  They are both unnatural ways of trying to help the horse to take in more air than nature intended and thus to enhance his/her performance, the only differences being that the nasal strip is merely a temporary attachment which does no long-term damage to the horse, and that it is surely less effective than a wind-operation potentially might be.

And on the subject of wind-operations, the really weird thing is that a few years ago tubing a horse (ie cutting an opening in the front of his/her throat and inserting a metal plug-hole, to try to get more air into the horse's lungs each breath, bypassing the horse's larynx altogether) was banned but other wind operations were not.  Where's the sense in that?  Tubing would always be my wind-operation of choice.  It often doesn't do any good (which comment one can apply to all wind-operations) but it does at least have the advantage of doing the least harm.  And, even more pertinently, it causes no permanent damage: remove the tube, and the hole closes up within a couple of weeks.  And it has the further advantage of being visible, so there can be no misunderstandings, deliberate or otherwise, about whether or when the horse has had the operation since he/she last raced.

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