Troubles in America, horse racing, and life By Bernard Kroviak, CDC Gaming Reports March 19, 2020 at 11:00 pm What’s happening today in America is, most probably, unlike anything most Americans have ever experienced. I won’t try and compare it with turn of the century epidemics, wars I’m too young to recall, or the Great Depression. I will only note that those were all terrible times for people around the globe, as well. But I must also note that America survived those tragedies – maybe not unscathed, but in many ways better. That, today, is certainly my hope, both for my beloved horse racing and for our society as a whole. Right before COVID-19 became the big story, the horse racing world was consumed by the indictments of several trainers that stood accused of using performance enhancing drugs on many of the racehorses in their care, both thoroughbreds and standardbreds alike. These federal indictments were brought forward by the FBI through the Southern District of New York. The most notable of the indicted trainers was Jason Servis, who is probably best known for training Maximum Security, the disqualified winner of last year’s Kentucky Derby. Maximum Security went on to win many of the world’s richest races after the Derby, including the inaugural Saudi Cup, ultimately amassing just under $12 million in earnings. Briefly, Servis and others allegedly conspired with veterinarians , laboratories, and others to create drugs that, when administered to horses, would mask other illegal performance enhancing drugs that they gave their horses from being detected by any required post-race lab tests that the horse might have to undergo, tests which are required of the winners of all races in America. These charges are very serious and can carry very serious penalties as well, including long-term prison sentences. The allegations have caused a great deal of damage to the image of horse racing as a whole – which, candidly speaking, has been taking a beating in recent years as it is. The immediate reaction by the anti-racing crowd was roughly “I told you so,” amid a renewed clamor that the sport is bad for the animals. The people involved in the business were horrified that this situation existed, as were the law makers who regulated racing. Changes were demanded by everyone: more and better testing, tighter controls on veterinarians, increased punishments for transgressions, all the way up to the complete elimination of all medications in horses, period. Federal regulation of the industry again became a hot topic among Congressmen in Washington. As a lover of horse racing, I, too, was appalled. Then, just as the sport was beginning to make sense of all this, the corona virus epidemic hit. Suddenly, the issues now are how will tracks adapt to this viral health crisis, not only for the sake of the people directly involved in the sport, but also for its spectators, as well. Concerns about race results and purses won have taken a back seat to concerns about the safety of everyone now at risk – which it seems, in one way or another, to be everyone, period. Which, of course, is how it should be. The thought of no Kentucky Derby this May can’t help but make people sad, even as the race is now tentatively rescheduled for September. Traditions are important. But the concerns facing society can’t help but outweigh virtually everything else right now. The Derby will, eventually, be run, and horse racing will survive. With any luck, in fact, the product will be better than it was before these doping issues came to light. Sports in this country have a record of dealing with serious issues and improving – not always in a timely fashion, but at least with the hope of moving forward with the best interests of all people at heart. Things will change rapidly, but I have confidence in us as Americans. I am old enough to remember times of great national tragedy, horror and uncertainty. I can recall the fear I felt as a teenager watching President Kennedy on TV during the Cuban missile crisis. Our parents comforted us, after a few tense days the disaster was avoided, and life went on. Some years later, I sat stunned in my high school study hall, having just heard about JFK’s assassination. The nation stopped: schools were cancelled, sports postponed, and for several days our mourning was public, as we watched the President’s funeral. But then, the orderly transition of power complete, we went back to regular life: a lot sadder and changed in some fundamental way, probably, but hopeful that things under LBJ would be all right. And then, much later, came 9/11. As I sat and watched the drama unfold on my television screen that morning, the horror of it was almost unbearable, and the aftermath of the attacks was Draconian. The world had become unrecognizable and our future terribly uncertain. We knew who the enemy was, sort of, and the government stepped in to protect us. Retaliation, understandably, was on everyone’s mind. American patriotism was in full bloom. l also remember how nice people were to each other, and to strangers as well. People called family friends to offer condolences to those most affected; others simply contacted people they cared about to make sure they were alright. I heard songs talking about telling those you care about how you really feel, and to do it while you can. I told family members that I loved them, words I may not have used enough in the past. I miss that compassion in people’s voices and in their dealings with others, especially with those who are different from themselves. I see people now hoarding supplies out of fear, and I sense fear in a lot of places, and toward a lot of people. It makes me sad. I don’t have any answers, and things are changing so quickly right now that I’m not sure anyone else does, either. After 9-11, after that fear swept the nation, I vowed, like many did, to not be intimidated by these terrorists. I was tough, I thought – if they wanted me, so be it. I proved that to myself – much to my family’s concern – flying cross-country on a half-full plane on the second day after the airline ban was lifted, as I’d planned before the attack. It was worth taking the chance to assert my desire to not have my life interrupted by fear of the unknown. And things, very slowly, went back to relative normal, and the world survived 9/11 – not without pain or without changes, granted, but it did. We were again able to find that sense that things would eventually be okay. Somehow, the current crisis seems different to me. Maybe it’s my age, or my evolving perspective on things. That post-9/11 sense of togetherness and concern for others seems now to be taking a backseat to other things. Maybe that urge to hoard is representative of that concept – I get mine, I get a lot more than I need, and tough luck to you, I was here first or I have more money than you or I matter more than you or something. I don’t know. I do see brave, wonderful nurses and doctors and other health care workers putting their own health in jeopardy to try and control this epidemic, and that gives me hope. I see officials struggle with decisions that must be made quickly and with little to base them on besides conflicting information and differing opinions. I want to be my old 9/11 self and say I will face this crisis without being intimidated: come and get me, virus, I will not change my ways because of the fear of what might happen. This attitude is, of course, loud bravado at its best and stupidity at its worst. I have two elementary school children in my life. They call me Papa Bernie. They told me recently they won’t be able to see me for a while, not because they are infected with the virus or out of fear that I might give it to them, but they don’t want me to get it in case they are carrying it and don’t know. (Tip of the cap to their parents, by the way, for instilling in them that caring for, and thinking of, others in a crisis is sometimes difficult, but best for people around you.) And, though it seems marginal right now, horse racing will survive, as well, and once again bring joy to me and my fellow railbirds. Hopefully when those days are finally upon us, we’ll all be able to look back and say we did something for the sake of others, something that made a real difference. I feel fine. I am not, to my knowledge, infected, and I have no signs of Covid-19 or even a garden-variety flu or virus. So I will deal with there being no Kentucky Derby in May. I will not be hoarding supplies. I will not be around the people I love for the time being, and I will rely on people who care to help me if I ever do contract the virus. And for now, I won’t be doing things in my own interest that might detract from someone who needs help. America will survive this crisis, as it has the others. Crises come and go. But what we are as a society can change depending on how we handle situations like these. I, for one, am confident we will be all right. If our humanity remains intact, and our concern for others is equal to that for ourselves, we will be okay. I know this – I must know this – because the people who call me Papa want it to be so.