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Counterpoint: Celebrate Derby Day!

For an opposing point of view see: “Point: Horse Racing’s Reality Problem”

On Saturday, millions of Americans will watch the 149th running of the Kentucky Derby at Churchill Downs — the longest continuously held major sporting event in U.S. history.

In many ways, Derby Day, the first Saturday of May, symbolizes the calendar’s turn from the dark and cold months to the sunshine and warm temperatures that are associated with early May. It is also a cultural cornerstone, as women sport their bonnets, men wear their seersucker suits, and almost everyone sips (or glugs) mint juleps.

In other words, Derby Day is a piece of Americana that ought to be treasured and celebrated.

However, in recent years, the Kentucky Derby has come under scrutiny, primarily due to the tragic events at Santa Anita Park in 2019, in which more than two dozen horses died or had to be euthanized after experiencing fractures.  Soon after this sad news, calls to ban horse racing increased. Many Americans began to wonder: Should we still celebrate Derby Day?

The answer is yes, of course, it is still more than OK to celebrate Derby Day because, by and large, horses involved in racing are well cared for, the industry is an economic juggernaut, and believe it or not, horses, like humans, were made to run.

Although those who would like to cancel the Derby (and horse racing in general) would like you to believe that racehorses are treated like commodities, this is not true. In reality, racehorses live idyllic lives courtesy of their human handlers. This includes nurturing relationships with their mothers, a well-balanced diet, pristine living conditions, ample access to veterinary services, and intimate bonds with humans.

In fact, even when their racing careers end, most racehorses maintain their leisurely lives on stud farms or as show horses. Unlike in “Animal Farm,” most do not end up in glue factories.

We should recognize that horse racing is a large industry that provides a huge economic impact. According to the American Quarter Horse Association, the “industry contributes approximately $50 billion in direct economic impact to the country’s economy.”

Moreover, “it directly contributes nearly 1 million jobs and $38 billion in direct wages, salaries and benefits.”

In 2022, the Kentucky Derby alone generated more than $400 million in local economic impact. “It also can be argued that Derby Week also serves as a promotional tool to bring in new residents, investment and businesses to the area,” says Thomas E. Lambert, an economist at the University of Louisville.

Last, it is essential to note that running is as natural to horses as it is to humans. Anecdotally, this was captured in a 2018 Sports Illustrated article titled “Understanding the Kentucky Derby, From a Horse’s Point of View.”

In the article, the author notes that “horses love to run.” And he describes a situation “where the yearlings would instinctively engage each other in impromptu races along the fence lines in their paddocks. Spend a day on racetrack backstretch and you will hear dozens of variations on this theme.”

To be clear, problems remain that need to be solved in horse racing. But that ethos can be applied to nearly all professional sports leagues, whether human-centric or not.

It would be a tragedy to ban horse racing, as many people on the other side of this issue are in favor of doing. Furthermore, if we were to do away with horse racing, wouldn’t we have to also eliminate many other forms of entertainment involving animals?

For nearly a century and a half, the Kentucky Derby has provided the “greatest two minutes in sports” annually. As always, the Run for the Roses will be celebrated this year for its spectacle, splendor and stunning sun hats.

Happy Derby Week, ladies and gentlemen!

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Whether It’s Pork and Sauerkraut or Pasta: Keeping New Year’s Traditions

While politics may divide us, nearly everyone agrees welcoming the New Year with good food, friends, and family is what la dolce vita is all about.

The Delaware Valley Journal asked some of the numerous candidates running for Pennsylvania governor and the U.S. Senate what their New Year’s traditions are and whether they are making a resolution for 2022.

Several politicians said they typically eat the Pennsylvania Dutch meal of pork and sauerkraut on New Year’s Day, which is supposed to bring diners good luck in the coming year.

Carla Sands, a Republican vying for her party’s nod for the Senate, said, “My favorite New Year’s tradition was my grandmother would make pork and sauerkraut and we would all sit down to a big New Year’s dinner. That’s how my family in central Pennsylvania did it.”

“My 2022 New Year’s resolution is to flip the U.S. Senate by electing an America First conservative in Pennsylvania,” Sands added.

Montgomery County Commissioner Joe Gale, who is running for governor, said his family enjoys the same traditional Pennsylvania dishes.

“The Gale family’s New Year’s Day tradition is having a pork and sauerkraut dinner,” said Gale. “My resolution for 2022 is to become the next Republican governor of Pennsylvania, so I can cut the pork in Harrisburg.”

Charlie Gerow, a Harrisburg-based political consultant also running for governor, said, “I’m pretty boring. I’m generally in bed before midnight and set the alarm so I can see the ball drop.”

On New Year’s Day, he will “eat some pork and sauerkraut with my mom and watch the Penn State football game and probably a couple of others, too. I’m not one for New Year’s resolutions but I pray daily for strength to help others, for humility to keep me straight, and to honor God in all I do.”

Former congressman Lou Barletta, who is leading in the polls in a field of more than a dozen vying to be the Republican candidate for governor, said, “Lately, my wife Mary Grace and I have been spending New Year’s Eve quietly at home, and I might enjoy a glass of wine and a cigar. Some of my best memories are of our First Night family-oriented celebrations, which we started in Hazleton while I was mayor. In 2022, I’ll continue to travel to every corner of the commonwealth, planning to restore common sense to Pennsylvania government.”

Will Simons, a campaign spokesman for Attorney General Josh Shapiro, the only Democratic candidate running for governor so far, said, “Josh likes to celebrate New Year’s with his family, and this year his resolution is to spend as much time with his family as he can while continuing to do everything in his power to make Pennsylvanians’ lives better.”

Guy Ciarrocchi, who is on leave from his job as CEO for the Chester County Chamber of Business & Industry, has also joined the fray as a Republican in the race for governor.

“My wife and I honor the age-old tradition of many parents: We sleep through the ‘ball-drop’ while ‘Dick Clark’s Rocking New Year’s Eve’ plays on TV,” he said.

Ciarrocchi has two resolutions: “One, to never stop thanking my wife, Chris, for supporting my run for governor and taking care of our home and family; and, two, as Chamber CEO in 2020, I vowed not to stop fighting until everyone was back at work and every child was back in school—now, I’ve taken that mission on as a candidate.”

Dr. Kevin Baumlin, a Philadelphia Democrat who is running for the Senate, said he usually works in the emergency department at Pennsylvania Hospital on New Year’s Eve but is not working this year. However, “with COVID, maybe we’ll just stay home, make a baked Alaska.” On New Year’s Day, Baumlin and his husband traditionally make a large pot of chili and have friends over.

As for his resolution, it’s to “win the Senate race.”

Pennsylvania Senate Pro Tempore Jake Corman, a Republican candidate for governor, said, “New Year’s Eve is always about spending time with good friends. Being surrounded by friends is a really great way to end one year and begin another.”

For others, it’s a time for prayer.

“As a child, growing up in a region (Cameroon) where nutritional insecurities from unpredictable climatic changes, locust invasions, and resultant famine were not infrequent occurrences, on New Year’s Day our family would pray, sing and wish for greater rainfall, robust fertility of the soil and bountiful crop yields. This tradition has persisted over the years,” said Dr. Nche Zama, a cardiothoracic surgeon who lives in the Poconos and is a Republican running for governor.

“My New Year wish is for greater social harmony in our beloved state, nation, and world, and an understanding by everyone that we are all woven together in a single garment of destiny,” said Zama. “What affects one affects all.”


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COWEN: A Gridiron Reprieve for Those Who Lament an America Lost in Crisis

Feel like the country could not be angrier or more divided? I have just the medicine. It won’t solve all our national ills, but it will provide a much-needed reprieve from the yelling, bullying, gavel pounding, and general hurt gripping the country.

Tune in for the Dec. 11 Army-Navy football game and you’ll find a lot more than the standard gridiron battle. You’ll find a competition between some young Americans for whom the outcome of the game is incredibly important, but not nearly as important as the legacy of the experience.

Navy Midshipmen and Army Cadets have scratched and clawed their way to attend their respective service academies, not for sports glory, but for the opportunity to be military officers. These athletes won’t be wined and dined by scouts looking to sign them to multi-year deals. No million-dollar endorsements await them at graduation. What is waiting for them is training – to be platoon leaders, pilots, submariners, or special operators. Ultimately, they serve and defend. They deploy to countries around the world, and they fight in our conflicts and wars.

The midshipmen and cadets face a very different reality than other collegiate or professional players. They will soon be operating on the same team—in highly dangerous environments where they must work together, depend on each other and fight next to each other. They must, quite literally, have each other’s backs. So there is honor in winning, but no dishonor in losing.

The military academies are not without their serious problems. In recent years, they have been dogged by cheating and sexual assault scandals. Some have called into question whether the academies are effective at training the military leaders of tomorrow. What’s more, the military in general is something of unknown terrain for so many Americans, given that only a small percentage of the country serves in the all-volunteer force.

And yet the Army-Navy rivalry on the football field transcends and prevails. When the country is polarized, and education feels stagnant, these institutions, with their academic excellence and storied histories tethered directly to the nation’s freedom and position on the global stage, give us hope.

In the era of the ubiquitous internet troll for whom disagreement is a blood sport, the fierce competition of the Army-Navy rivalry subsists side by side with equally fierce respect. It is refreshing to watch a game where those who are competing agree to the same set of rules and play by the same set of rules—unlike the online gridiron where shaming and finger-wagging predominate.

I did not attend a military academy. No matter. I believe in the spirit of the game. For me, the Army-Navy game and its traditions exemplify what needs correction in our American culture writ large.

“Disagreement is good because competition is good,” said Arthur C. Brooks, the social scientist and commentator. “It makes us sharp and strong, whether in sports, in politics, in economics, or in the world of ideas. We don’t need to disagree less; we need to disagree better.”

The rivalry points the way to a more civil and hopeful future of disagreeing better.

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