We’re writing in response to the opinion piece by Robert Fisk Jr. in your Oct. 22-23 edition, titled “The Secret Lives of Harness-Racing Horses.”
To put it bluntly, Mr. Fisk’s piece was better suited for the pulp fiction rack, not the pages of a respected daily newspaper.
As a veterinarian and an equine faculty member, we have more than 50 years combined experience working with Standardbreds and the people who own, train and race them. We are the real industry insiders. We know the truth about racehorses in Maine: The vast majority of these beautiful animals are well-loved, well cared for and they live good lives.
The fact is that Question 2 is good for Maine’s harness racing industry, the larger equine industry and all 35,000 or so horses we have in our state.
Think of it as a chain reaction. Thriving racinos in Southern and Down East Maine will boost the purses for horse owners. That benefits trainers, grooms, horse handlers, blacksmiths, grain suppliers and equipment dealers. It benefits stable owners and the pasture land they protect. It benefits hay farmers and thousands of acres of agricultural land. The racinos create hundreds of jobs that are so badly needed in this economy.
These projects in Biddeford and Washington County also will generate revenue for the state’s general fund, college scholarships and the agricultural fairs. Biddeford Downs alone is projected to pay at least $30 million annually into the general fund, for things like education and public safety.
As experts in our fields, we know that owners and trainers care deeply about their horses on the personal and professional levels. From the business point of view, they realize that horses need to be of sound mind and body to compete. After a horse’s racing career is over, owners go to great lengths to ensure that they are adopted by responsible families. Standardbreds are retrained for a number of purposes. There are literally hundreds of children across Maine who are learning to ride on “retired” racehorses.
We’re happy to help “pull back the curtain” on the industry for anyone who wants to learn more. Behind that curtain you would see good folks like Mike and Sherry Cushing, toiling from before dawn until after dark at the Farmington Fairgrounds.
You’d see the care and patience of Debora Freeman as she takes one of her horses out to her jogging track in East Orland.
You’d see three judges and a Maine Harness Racing Commission veterinarian checking out the horses before and after the races, to make sure that regulations are met and the animals are treated humanely. Every horse. Every race.
Ultimately, you would see hardworking people who love their animals, who are proud of their past, and who would like a chance for a bright future in Maine. Question 2 helps them get there.
Dr. Denise McNitt of Cumberland is a staff member at the Blackstrap Hill Veterinary Clinic and has been an equine veterinarian in Maine for more than 25 years, and formerly served as a veterinarian for the Maine Harness Racing Commission. Dr. Norinne “Nonni” Daly of Old Town is a horse owner, harness racing enthusiast and faculty member in Animal and Veterinary Science at the University of Maine.