There’s no race like home

TIME and time again you hear racing enthusiasts on television and radio say that Australian racing is the best in the world.

After visiting Suffolk Downs racecourse in Boston, it is easy to see why we are so fond of our product.

At its best I'm sure American racing is great - think the Kentucky Derby or Breeders Cup series.

But at its lowest (and I'm not sure if the quality of animals competing at Suffolk Downs this day could get any lower) it isn't really an enthralling spectacle.

And that's coming from someone who has loved horse racing for more than 20 years.

On the Saturday I was there nine races were contested on the course's dirt track.

Both dirt and turf are utilised at Suffolk Downs however rain in the lead-up to the meeting had rendered the turf unsuitable for racing.

There's an idea for our racing authorities to consider - all-weather surfaces that can ensure a meeting goes ahead even if rain makes the turf unsuitable.

Less abandoned meetings equals more racing, equals more punting dollars and equals more chances for owners and trainers to make a dollar or two from the animals they invest their time and money in.

A picturesque track on the eastern outskirts of Boston near Logan International Airport, Suffolk Downs has hosted some of the greats of the American turf including Seabiscuit, the subject of a 2003 movie.

In 1937 a crowd of 40,000 turned up to see the champion win the MassCap, the biggest race in the north-eastern part of America.

A year later Seabiscuit was due to face War Admiral in a much-talked-about Masscap but was scratched because of injury.

The crowd of 60,000 watched on in shock as War Admiral was beaten into fourth place as an odds-on favourite.

The day I was there, there were definitely no Seabiscuits or War Admirals to be found and the crowd was closer to 600 than it was 60,000.

In Australia, standard time for a 1200m race is about the one-minute, 12-second mark and even that would be considered ordinary.

When I was at Suffolk Downs, the first race on the program was a maiden run over the 1200m (or six furlongs as they call it) and the winner, the $2.10 favourite Dr Maureen H, completed the journey in a time of 1:14.67 on a track where the surface was described as fast.

Later in the day $1.90 favourite Spicer ran the quickest 1200m of the day when it won in a time of 1:12.73, about 10 lengths quicker than Dr Maureen H.

I understand it is hard to compare different horses and different tracks on opposite sides of the world and there are plenty of variables, but it's worth noting that Delaval, a maiden winner at Mudgee recently, completed the 1200m in a time of 1:12.13 on a grass track, which is generally considered to produce slower times than dirt.

Derby Bird, which won a maiden race over a mile, recorded a time of 1:43.72 which compares quite poorly with the 1:37.10 recorded by Zareni in a recent mile maiden at Orange.

Suffolk Downs may not be the most prestigious track in America and Boston may not be the racing heartland of the nation but compared even to the level of horses in the central west, times and measures suggest punters were dealing with an inferior standard of racing animal.

Not only that, they were dealing with a racebook that was difficult to decipher, and after one failed attempt at sorting out the form, it took me three more races and almost two hours to sit down and study the book properly before I was brave enough to step back up to the plate.

Another difference between US and Australian racing is over there horses are saddled up in the mounting yard in sight of punters rather than down in the stalls but the biggest discrepancy comes via the laws surrounding some drugs.

Stupidly each state has different rules regarding what is legal and what is not although some are generally fine across the width and breadth of the country.

Lasix, a treatment used to try and stop horses from bleeding internally, is commonly administered as is phenylbutazone (more commonly known as bute), an anti-inflammatory used to relieve pain.

Horses racing with these two drugs, both outlawed in Australia, are identified in the racebook with an L and B next to their name.

Whether such a policy is right or wrong is a matter of personal opinion, but I know I'm much happier to have a bet in a country where they are trying to have everyone on as level a playing field as possible.

At the recent Breeders Cup meetings at Santa Anita in California, horses weren't allowed to run on Lasix, a sign that perhaps Americans are starting to come around and think the same way as the rest of the world.

Stopping a horse from bleeding or feeling pain may sound fine, but it also presents the risk of masking problems that can cause much more serious issues such as a runner breaking down or collapsing during a race.

I'm not naive enough to think for a second horses aren't treated with various drugs in Australia but my preference is to have them on the track clean of any substance and hopefully fit and ready to race.

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