OPINION: Cleaning Out the Ole’ Muck Pit…Scoops for Sullivan, Casner, PETA & Paulick

(There’s not much honor left in the journalism world. Photo by Holly M. Smith)

Every so often, we will be addressing a few things: comments, decisions, people, whatever that – for one reason or another – should be tossed into the literary “muck pit.”

It is in the spirit of cleanliness, recycling, and protecting the environment that we offer this service of “addressing the muck” – free of charge. After all, someone has to do it, right?

And, it didn’t take long for us to find a few pounds of, well, manure.

Here is a look at our 16th Edition”:

There’s Reasons Why People Don’t Read Newspapers Anymore; Tim Sullivan & “The Courier-Journal” Are Two of Them:

At 6:21 a.m. on Monday, July 1, the Courier-Journal posted a “story” by Sports Columnist Tim Sullivan that was teased on the “Sports” link of the paper’s website with the header:

“Dirt Tracks Kill More Horses, But Horsemen Resist Artificial Surfaces”

It was the 4th story listed under “Top Stories” on the site.

It was circulated throughout the social media world, and immediately picked up by “The Paulick Report” — the kings of “cut and paste” — and others around the country a few minutes later.


It was another hatchet job.

Written by a guy who has become nothing more than a hack, hell bent on causing controversy, commotion, and chaos.

Written with one purpose in mind. To try and embarrass Churchill Downs — a Louisville icon — and the horse industry — the Commonwealth’s signature industry.

Written with absolutely no journalistic ethics, sense of balance, or a simple tinge of fairness.

And, most of all, it was written with a blind eye cast towards the real story of the day, and, perhaps, of the year.


I guess only Timmy knows. But probably because the most recent facts didn’t support the predicate; his theory; his theme; his argument. Probably because the facts of the moment didn’t support Sullivan’s predisposed position and opinion. So, the facts of today, were mostly ignored. Buried. So far down that you needed a bulldozer to find them.

So, let’s do Timmy a favor. And, let’s dig them up and out. For the world to see.

The fact is that Churchill Downs finished its’ brilliant Spring/Summer Race Meet with record purses.

The fact is that Churchill Downs finished its’ first meet of the year with another brilliant Kentucky Derby season, and on-premise attendance figures that no other racing venue in the world can duplicate, match, or compare.


Wait for it…

Drum roll please…

The fact is that Churchill Downs had one of the safest race meets in history.

That’s right. Safest.

In the history of the track.

In the history of the sport.

Out of 3,148 horses to compete during the meet, 3,145 of them came back to the unsaddling area, the barns, home safely.

Of the 3 horses that did not? Two of them tragically died from apparent heart attacks. One perished from a catastrophic injury.

While it is always tremendously sickening and sad when any living thing passes, and  we should all strive to make the world a safer place for all, those numbers — by any standards — are off the charts in a positive way. Especially when you contrast that number with what has happened this year on the West Coast at Santa Anita — where 30 horses died from catastrophic injuries from Dec. 26 to the end of the horrid meet  this June.

And, get this.

Churchill did this while running every single race over either its’ traditional main dirt track and its’ world-renown turf surface.

Churchill did this while Kentucky had one of the wettest Springs and early Summers in history. In one 10-weekend stretch, it rained 9 times.

Churchill did this while allowing horses to be treated with the therapeutic, anti-bleeding medication of Lasix.

And, Churchill did this while permitting jockeys to ride and utilize crops.

So, why wasn’t that Timmy’s story at 6:21 a.m. on Monday, July 1?

Guess that good news doesn’t sell newspapers, right?

Guess that didn’t fit the predisposed “opinion.”

Guess those numbers were not what ole’ Timmy wanted to see.

Well, let’s be honest.

Nothing sells newspapers anymore. And, one of the reasons — of many — is that the content today suffers from a serious lack of professionalism, ethics, truthfulness, fairness, and balance.

Truthfully — which is a word seldom found in the journalism profession much any more — Sullivan’s story was shameful by all accounts. All of them.

And, let me tell you why.

First of all, my criticism of Sullivan and what once was a truly great newspaper — many, many years ago — has nothing to do with the subject matter of the story. Zero.

If you want to write a story that compares and contrasts the issues of synthetic racing surfaces for horses compared to traditional dirt or grass courses, that’s fair game.

If you want to dig up statistics that show the fatality rates that have occurred on one versus the other, that’s OK.

If you want to try to make a point and take a side, and try to force the racing industry to move to synthetic racing surfaces in all jurisdictions, that’s OK, too. You should label it as “Opinion,” but you can do that, too.

But what is painfully obvious is the fact that Sullivan’s piece was written far in advance of the completion of the Churchill Downs’ Spring / Summer Meet — that came to a wonderful, successful and quality conclusion last Saturday.

It was sitting in the hopper and ready to go. Likewise, Sullivan and the C-J’s editors were just sitting there, prepared to plug in the final stats of the meet. My guess, they were hoping that the stats would further vilify Churchill Downs, the sport, and support their claims that synthetic surfaces are better, safer than traditional tracks.

But when the numbers didn’t support it?

Oh, never mind. Guess they just decided to bury those. Don’t let the facts get int he way of a good story, right, Timmy?

Sullivan wrote 38 paragraphs in the story that appeared at 6:21 a.m. Monday morning. You had to wade down to paragraph 18 to find the Churchill Downs’ most recent statistics. And, Sullivan tried to explain them away by comparing them to last year’s numbers.

By contrast, it took Sully and the C-J until 3:10 p.m. to post its’ first story on the “good news” of the meet.

By contrast, Sullivan wrote 11 paragraphs on the “good news.”

By contrast, the Sullivan story on “Dirt tracks kill more horses…” was 4th on the “Top Stories” list. Even a story that was over a day old that recanted the death of the 5-year-old Will Call suffering a heart attack was still listed in the “Top Stories” category. If you wanted to find the “good news” story? You had to go down 28 stories to locate it on the C-J website.

We used to call that “burying the lead,” back when I was in school. Then, again, I was taught journalism ethics in college. I was held to a strict and stern standard when I wrote for the “Lexington Herald-Leader,” from 1977 to 1988. If you put “opinion” in a news story, it was deleted. And, you were reprimanded. John Carroll, our paper’s editor, and Creed Black, our paper’s publisher, demanded it.

Sad that nobody holds those standards any more. Sadder that nobody demands it.

There are other problems with Sullivan’s piece on synthetic tracks, and his obvious play to make the industry convert.

The headlines associated with the story cast the horsemen in a serious negative light. The first one reads: “Dirt tracks kill more horses, but horsemen resist artificial surfaces.” The second one reads: ‘We bury our heads:’ Horsemen prefer dirt tracks even though they lead to more fatalities.”

Yet, Sullivan does not quote a single horseman and trainer other than Michael Dickinson — whose family has developed an artificial surface. And, I beg you to look up the name of Michael Dickinson online. Do your own research. Draw your own conclusions.

Let’s just say, the guy is not a mainstream horse trainer.

Couldn’t Sullivan have gone to the backside and talked to some trainers based in Kentucky?

Couldn’t Sullivan have talked to some track superintendents?

Guess not. Even though Sully did whine last week on social media and Twitter that nobody would return his calls. Wonder why.

The only other person that Sullivan apparently chatted with is Bill Casner, a former co-owner of WinStar Farm.

Fact is Casner was formerly a part-owner in Kentucky Downs. Didn’t see a synthetic track down there.

What was the fatality rate at KY Downs, Timmy? Where Casner was an owner?

Did you ask those questions? Not pertinent?

And, why didn’t Sullivan reach out to PETA after the real news of this Churchill Downs meet? The great success story? The feel-good story? Wasn’t Kathy Guillermo available? She certainly pops up every time there is bad news. Why not now?

Bet Sullivan would have found Kathy if the numbers had come back horrible. Bet he would have if the numbers supported his claims, and contentions.

I have known Tim Sullivan for a very long time. Used to sit next to him at Riverfront Stadium back in the 1980s, when we both covered the Cincinnati Reds. Never did care much for him then, either.

A bit arrogant. A lot overrated.

When Pete Rose had his issues with MLB and was later banned from the game, Tim Sullivan was the first to jump on his back — with both feet. Never mind that Pete Rose was one of the best interviews in the entire game — both then and now — and made himself available to every one, at any time. Including Tim Sullivan.

Sullivan tried to bury Pete. And, to be honest, Pete didn’t need any help doing that. It was really sad.

Confession. I like Pete Rose. A lot. Sure, he made mistakes. Took awhile, but he owned up to them. And, he’s a friend of mine to this very day. I like Pete Rose. A lot.

I don’t really like Tim Sullivan.

After Sullivan left Cincinnati and went to San Diego, he was later fired in 2012. Sullivan took to the airwaves to say the reason for the firing was a series of stories he wrote opposing a new football stadium for the San Diego Chargers. A series of stories that the new owner of the paper objected to, was the claim.

Sullivan wrote those pieces in 2006. Six years before his firing.


When he came back East, and took a job at the C-J, he said he wanted to get back “home” and near his daughter, who was attending college in Ohio. But it wasn’t long before he was openly considering an attempt to go after his old job at the “San Diego Union-Times.”


Sullivan wrote a piece on University of Kentucky John Calipari that made news, alright. Paper had to apologize for the illustration used with it later on.

And, it didn’t take University of Louisville Coach Mack long to ban Sullivan from the Cardinals’ locker room after games. That happened last November, when Sullivan was trying to hassle, and vilify a kid — V.J. King.

A trend?

Now, Sullivan’s latest bing is kicking dirt — er, wax, synthetic debris — on the horse industry?


May be better to consider the source and his credentials.

Or lack thereof.

Paulick Report:

Not going to waste any more time on ole’ Ray, either. As soon as Sullivan’s “racetrack surface” piece was up on the C-J website, “Cut & Paste” Ray had the story on the “Paulick Report.”

I checked this morning. Paulick still had not posted the story on Churchill Downs’ most recent meet and the “fatality rate” being one of the lowest in the history of the sport.

That’s fair, Ray.


Can anyone put out a missing person’s report for Kathy Guillermo?

I’m sure she would like to compliment Churchill Downs on its’ most recent meet.


Why lash out at Keeneland, when you didn’t pony up any money to put synthetic in at KY Downs?

Anger management, Bill.

Get some.

The horse broke well today,” Gaffalione said. “I had the horse inside, Dunph, going to the lead and then (Gun It) showed a little bit of speed. When I saw they were intent on going I just tried to get him back and got him to relax. He came back to me nicely and settled well down the backside. Got a little keen going into the far turn and wanted to move a little early. But I didn’t want to take too much away from him so I tried to sit as long as I could. He was waiting on horses down the lane but I kept him at task and there was plenty of horse there.”

“Mark (Casse, the trainer) and his team have done a great job,” Gaffalione said. “They’ve had a ton of confidence in this horse the whole way. It’s just an honor to be able to ride the horse. He’s just so professional, trains great and he’s a pleasure to be around.”

Tyler Gaffalione, Rode of War of Will to victory in the G2 Risen Star Stakes at the Fair Grounds
  • Gene McLean

    Gene McLean

    Gene McLean began his professional career in 1977 as a sportswriter and columnist for the Lexington Herald-Leader in Lexington, Ky., and was recognized as one of the state’s best writers, winning the prestigious “Sportswriter of the Year” honor in 1985. Now the President and Publisher of The Pressbox, McLean sets ...

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