Inside Horse Racing with Trainer and Author Glenn Thompson
Raina Paucar interviews Glenn Thompson, a Thoroughbred race horse trainer and author of the book “The Tradition of Cheating at the Sport of Kings.” In this very candid interview, Glenn discusses some of the controversial topics surrounding America’s Thoroughbred horse racing industry.
Thoroughbred race horse trainer and author Glenn Thompson aboard his beloved late Mountain
Raina Paucar for Equitrekking: Glenn, what is your background with horses and what brought you into the sport of Thoroughbred horse racing?
Glenn Thompson: My background in racing began shortly after I could walk. My family and I were living in a house on Grace Avenue in Aiken, South Carolina. As my mother tells the story, she was fast asleep at five thirty in the morning and heard the doorbell ring. A groom in very dirty clothes had me in his arms and explained to her that he found me trying to walk down Grace Avenue. My dad had gone to work early and somehow I got out the door and tried to follow him to work. Ever since that day, I have always wanted to work with horses.
During the summers, I would hot walk or groom for my father. He was a steeplechase jockey and trainer, who later trained race horses on the flat. After I graduated high school, at the age of eighteen, I was my father's assistant trainer.
We hit a little bump in the road at Philadelphia Park one day. He had a girl working for him that I feel didn’t adequately do her job. The other riders were starting to complain, so I asked her to change her ways. We had a disagreement, and she was quite disrespectful. I fired her on the spot. She said something vulgar and said I couldn’t fire her. I walked into dad's office and told him I fired her. Wouldn't you know! He said I couldn’t fire her. I told him that either she goes or I go. The next day I left for Penn National with three horses and have been training ever since.
Equitrekking: I recently read your book, "The Tradition of Cheating at the Sport of Kings." As a former Thoroughbred jockey and exercise rider, I find many of your statements to be accurate about the sport of horse racing. What compelled you to write this book?
Glenn Thompson: I decided to write the book after a day at Saratoga. I had spent a week at Saratoga about fifteen years ago. We had an unbelievable week. My father, son, stepmother, clients and friends would spend time at the barn having lunch and sometimes dinner there with the horses. It was a special week that I will always remember, as the way racing should be.
In 2009 I had a horse named Two Notch Road that I brought up to Saratoga to run in the With Anticipation Stakes. I took my wife Lisa up and I’m telling her how special Saratoga is the whole drive. When we get there, we are directed to where Two Notch is stabled. He was behind a twelve-foot fence with security guards all over the place. It reminded me more of a prison than a barn area! When I walked back to the barn, I found my horse in a tent that had been made into a makeshift barn. It was very hot in there and even though they had these large fans at each end, there was no air in the tents. All the horses and some of the best two year olds in the world, looked depressed. I was not happy with the conditions at all, but was still going to make the best of it. Lisa and I went to get lunch and then we walked back to have lunch with my groom and Two Notch.
A security guard came over and told us that Lisa was going to have to have her lunch on the other side of the twelve-foot fence. I had seen enough and nearly lost my temper. I knew immediately that I had to do something. All of these changes; the fence, the guards, throwing Lisa out, were a direct result of trainers and veterinarians cheating with drugs on race day.
I spoke to family and friends about writing a book and they all said it would be bad for racing and bad for Monmouth Park, so I put it off. Last year I had a horse named Mixed Up Money who broke down one morning galloping, and I felt like I made a mistake and missed a problem that he had. I felt my mistake led to having to put him down and for some reason, I started writing my book that night.
Equitrekking: What issue do you think needs to be regulated first?
Glenn Thompson: I feel the largest issue we have in racing right now is the drug problem. The largest drug problem we have is how to handle Lasix. The integrity issues with racing in America are in the news and the perfect storm to get some changes made has been brewing for months.
Some examples: the high number of breakdowns in New York this winter, the seven horses falling down in the same race at Charlestown, the series in The New York Times articles which showed a very dark side of racing, the Congressional Field Hearing in Pennsylvania–where Gretchen Jackson, Arthur Hancock, George Strawbridge, Gary Stevens, Dr. Kate Papp and myself testified to try to get some drastic changes made, and the betting takeout fiasco in New York where the bettors were not paid what they should have been paid.
Lets get back to Lasix. I feel that about thirty years ago we took a turn for the worse with the horses and drugs. We started giving our horses anabolic steroids and corticosteroids and NSAIDS (Bute and Banamine). All of these medications promote bleeding within the horses. I have had a veterinarian tell me that when they changed the Bute rule (where it could be given at twenty-four hours instead of seventy-two hours), he felt the percentage of bleeders went up 80%. I went for surgery this past winter and one of the most important things the doctor told me was not to take any NSAIDS a week before my surgery, because it would cause me to bleed during the surgery.
The people that are in charge of making the rules say it is still okay for us to give Bute and Banamine twenty-four hours before a race and then wonder why we have a bleeding problem. I feel if we were to ban all medications for the two-year olds to race, it would stop the bleeding problem with the babies. We should do that right away!
Then next year, we follow that up with banning the medications with the two and three year olds. We could have a drug free Kentucky Derby, and l that would be a great accomplishment. In 2014, we should ban Lasix for all horses. In the meantime, I suggest much research has to be done to try to find some help with the bleeding in older horses. We have allowed these drugs into the bloodlines of all our horses for over thirty years, and I don't think we are going to clean it all up in a couple of years.
Equitrekking: Have you experienced a personal backlash from the industry by writing this book?
Glenn Thompson: Interesting question. I guess I have from some of my friends and family. You would be surprised how many people have come up to me and shook my hand and told me that I did a great thing in writing the book and that the horses needed me. Also, being able to testify before congress was an honor and has led to some special friendships. So, I feel that the good has by far outweighed the bad.
Equitrekking: The New York Times has been doing a series on American horse racing called Breakdown. I personally feel that there is much truth in the series. I am interested in seeing them share some of the many positive stories about the everyday people on the backside who make the lives of race horses better. What is your opinion of the articles in the Breakdown series?
Glenn Thompson: The first article in The New York Times was horrible. I can’t imagine anyone reading that and ever wanting to go to the races. It was jaded and slanted very strongly towards the worst part of the racing game. The statistics that they used were also slanted and misleading.
The second article was worse because it was well written, accurate and made me feel ashamed to be a trainer. As much as I hated reading these articles, I feel they were needed to try to get the people in charge of horse racing’s integrity to wake up. It hasn’t happened yet, but I still hold out hope that it will.
Equitrekking: Do you think it’s a fair depiction of horse racing as a whole?
Glenn Thompson: No, not even close. There are many heroes in racing, both horse and human. They didn’t touch on any of those. They wanted to make a point and left out a lot of the good in racing. There are thousands of great stories and people that need to be talked about, but that does not sell papers. It would be great if the writers came back in a month or so and told some of those stories.
Equitrekking: I’m curious about your take on the mega casinos buying many of the racetracks across the United States. I see many positives and negatives associated with these casinos/racinos and the future of horse racing. Do you think casinos purchasing racetracks and converting them into racinos has a positive or negative impact on horse racing?
Glenn Thompson: I do not like the casinos at the tracks. I feel they take away from the sport and the horses. At every track that I have been to that has a casino, everyone is inside the casino. Only a few fans are out watching the horses race. I think we need to do a much better job marketing and try to rely on ourselves to support our own business. As we see now in Pennsylvania and Canada, the government is trying to take away the slot money. I would feel more comfortable if we took care of our own industry.
Equitrekking: This is a topic very close to my heart. As an equine enthusiast, it pains me to see so many ex-racehorses unwanted or going to slaughter. What do you think can be done to help ex-racehorses find homes?
Glenn Thompson: I hate the slaughter issue, as it is very complicated, but I feel like we need to do a better job of funding a retirement program that works. Money should be set aside at every track and every sale in America.
There is no excuse for there to be problem with funding for the horses that are able to retire and lead another career. At Monmouth Park last year, I think they might have raised $30,000 for the retired horses, sounds like a lot right? Might take care of three horses for a year! I had three of my own last year, and I was lucky to find good homes for them outside of the Monmouth Park program. What are we supposed to do about the other seventy-five? Where did they end up? I also feel very bad about horses being shipped to Mexico and Canada to be slaughtered.
I think all the tracks should have a facility that is able to humanely put down horses that have no shot at another career, due to injury or a dangerous way of being. I had one horse that I sent to a rescue in South Carolina that ended up hurting two people who tried to adopt him. He is a cheeky rascal, and we ended up sending him to another rescue in Aiken. A girl who worked there also used to groom him at the track. It is sad to say, but I feel that some horses are better off being put down at the track, rather than facing some of the other options available to them––which will probably lead to the same fate, only after much suffering.
General Perfect Trained by Glenn Thompson wins the John McSorley Stakes / Photo courtesy: Wendy Wooley/EquiSport Photos
Equitrekking: Share with us a great personal moment for you within your horse racing career where you were proud because you had integrity and didn’t cheat.
Glenn Thompson: I have had many good moments over the years where I have felt good about sticking to my principles. Some of them were in Graded Stakes, where a lot of money was involved. Had I folded once on my principles, I never would have been able to write my book. It might have cost me a lot in a financial way, but I'm okay with that. My feelings are the book could lead to some important changes for the horses and the sport of racing, that is much more important than little green pieces of paper.
Equitrekking: Is there anything else you’d like to share?
Glenn Thompson: I hope everyone that reads the book enjoys it and I encourage them to leave a review. I would appreciate the feedback. If someone is having a financial hardship, send me an email at Daresoar @ aol.com. I will send you a code for a free copy.
A Review of Efforts to Protect the Health of Jockeys and Horses in Horseracing–testimony starts at 1:50, or click on Glenn Thompson to see written testimony.
About the Author: Raina Paucar is an adventure loving equestrian and retired female jockey. She likes to ride and compete in many disciplines, explore new places, read great books, gadget hoard, play games, take pictures and write. She currently exercises racehorses and works with her own off-the-track-Thoroughbred (OTTB). Her career in media focuses on equestrian lifestyle. You can add her to your Google+ circles, subscribe on Facebook and follow on Twitter.