Website & Places you can find my work online
Facebook: Alex Brown Group
YouTube: Alex Brown Racing
Flickr: Alex Brown Racing
Follow Alex on Twitter @AlexBrownRacing
Twitpic: Alex Brown Racing
Learn about Alex’s book Greatness and Goodness: Barbaro and his Legacy
Where I am
I am currently back at Fair Hill, Maryland. For the previous two years I have spent time in Toronto, Canada (Woodbine), Hot Springs Arkansas (Oaklawn Park), Houston, Texas (Sam Houston Race Park), Lexington Kentucky (Keeneland) and Louisville Kentucky (Churchill Downs), Erie Pennsylvania (Presque Isle Downs) and Grantville Pennsylvania (Penn National).
Tell us a little about you, what is your background & where do you come from?
I am originally from the UK. I arrived in Maryland in 1987 to work for trainer Michael Dickinson.
Since then I have worked in racing while also developing an academic career. I taught Internet marketing for 10 years at the University of Delaware, and worked at the Wharton School of the University of Pennsylvania.
You have been involved in the racing industry for a long time, what changes have you seen over the years? Have they become more humane or less so?
The racing industry has its problems, but I do think there are those within the industry who are working to help improve things. But sometimes it takes an event to push for change.
Most recently the jockeys at Penn National refused to ride races that included horses owned by Michael Gill. Gill had a bad reputation in the industry, but no one was really willing to take him on. It took the jockeys to do something.
You could make a similar case for Ernie Paragallo. One event (finding some of his horses in the slaughter pipeline) initiated a set of events that got him banned from New York while also facing cruelty charges. The industry itself was not prepared to take him on. But I do think there are positive changes within the industry, and there is now way more scrutiny on the industry. And there are some very good people within the industry. I traveled seven racetracks in the last 2 1/2 years and met some very cool and compassionate horsemen who fully supported the work I was doing.
Your career has taken you to many locations, what are some of the differences you see from track to track?
Keeneland was beautiful. Woodbine was probably the best overall training facility. Many of the tracks I worked at had a synthetic surface (Woodbine, Keeneland and Presque Isle) and I personally love them.
Oddly I got the sense that Texas horsemen were more compassionate than some of the “hard boot” Kentucky horsemen, especially when it came to the subject of horse slaughter.
I guess Kentucky the horse is agri-business whereas in Texas it is more for pleasure at this point. There are also language differences. Lines are reigns for example.
Barbaro was inspiration for your cause which is dedicated to improving the welfare of people and animals on the track, can you tell us about that?
My web-site tracked Barbaro’s time at New Bolton Center, and we built up a large community. Along the way Mrs. Jackson made it clear she was interested in pursuing some horse welfare issues. The largest topic we tackle is the horse slaughter issue. It’s been an enlightening experience.
Personally I began the experience assuming we needed horse slaughter and it was humane. I now know we do not need horse slaughter and it is not humane. I feel like I have a ph.d in the topic. We have also focused on other issues, and we have supported some horsemen along the way. It’s been a lot of work, and extremely rewarding.
This cause has grown considerably, what is it like managing a large online community focused on animal welfare issues?
Yikes, you want me to write another book? Seriously I was not prepared for what I would learn in terms of managing this type of community. Some of my learnings are discussed in an interview I did for Knowledge@Wharton
In a very broad sense though one of the key challenges has been approaching animal welfare issues from a horseman’s perspective rather than an animal rights perspective. Animal rights people, for the most part, want to end our sports. It is hard to have strong working relationships with those who use false arguments to attack us!
How has social media helped?
Enormously. The combination of transparency (from the Internet in general) and connectedness (from social media) now means we all have a voice and we can find like-minded people more easily.
This media is new, and we are still learning how to use it so we do make mistakes, but it has changed the playing field of that I am certain.
You are an anti-slaughter advocate, what do you believe & why?
That is who I am. That is my cause and something about which I think I am an expert. There are many reasons why horse slaughter is wrong and I address this in detail in the book I am writing.
Tell us about your Top Bunk List.
Top Bunk made over $500,000 and was running in cheap claiming races. A few people got together and bought him and retired him. He inspired a list of horses that run for $5k or less who have made more than $500,000. We keep an eye on those horses and attempt to retire ones we see a need for retirement.
Perhaps our biggest “success” was Tour of the Cat who had earned more than $1 million but was running for $5k at Presque Isle. He got claimed and was shipped to Old Friends in Kentucky. How cool is that!
Do you have a list of approved rescues you recommend?
No. And that’s good and it can be bad. We are a large and diverse community and people are free to support whoever they chose. As soon as we get in the business of “approval” then three things happen: we disenfranchise those we do not approve and their supporters, we become liable or at least more liable, and we spend resources for the approval process. As of now we essentially run a “bazaar” type model for fundraising. For the most part it works, and where it has not worked we have learned.
What do you tell concerned animal lovers about the reality of conditions for horses on the track?
That they get much better care than the average horse.
What else gets you out of bed in the morning?
Not the weather at the moment!
More to Come
Thanks to Alex for taking the time to answer my questions about him & his work. Be sure to check out his website to learn more about him, where he is & what he’s up to.
Also stay tuned for more interviews with horse artists and photographers.
Are you a horse artist or do you know an equine artist you’d like to see featured? Add your name and website in the comments below or drop me a note to get involved.