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University of Kentucky Basketball, Football, and Recruiting news brought to you in the most ridiculous manner possible.
May 4th, 2015

UK will face Wright State and Illinois State next season, won’t face Texas Tech or Indiana

calipari

With the season over and recruiting wrapping up, get ready for schedule leaks! According to CatsPause.com’s Jon Hale, Kentucky will host Wright State on November 20 and Illinois State on November 30.

According to Andy Katz, UK will NOT play Indiana or Texas Tech next season. Katz reports that Kentucky and Texas Tech were working on bringing Tubby Smith back to Rupp, but they couldn’t get the details worked out in time to get it on the schedule. Hopefully it’ll happen in 2016-2017.

So, here are the games we do know will take place:

  • November 17: vs. Duke in Chicago
  • November 20: vs. Wright State
  • November 27: vs. South Florida in Miami
  • November 30: vs. Illinois State
  • December 3: at UCLA
  • December 19: vs. Ohio State in Brooklyn
  • Late December: vs. Louisville

There is also reportedly an away game against a Big 12 opponent in the works.

[CatsPause.com]


Nerlens Noel took Kelly Melton to the Derby again

@max_strong44

In what is becoming one of my favorite traditions, Nerlens Noel took Kelly Melton to the Kentucky Derby again on Saturday. Nerlens and Kelly, a 9-year-old fan with leukemia, became friends during Nerlens’ time at UK, and for the past three Derbys, Kelly has been Nerlens’ guest.

This year, cn|2 caught up with Nerlens and Kelly on the red carpet, and the video is pretty adorable:

Kelly is also close with several other Kentucky athletes, including Max Strong, Landon Foster, and Marcus Lee. Even though Kelly says he can’t come to next year’s Derby, here’s hoping he can find a way to make it happen.

[cn|2]


ESPN’s SEC Blog ranks UK 13th in the SEC after spring practice

Andy Lyons | Getty Images

Andy Lyons | Getty Images

ESPN’s Edward Aschoff is passing out grades to each SEC team after spring practice, and well, at least Kentucky isn’t last? In a true testament to the strength of the SEC, Aschoff ranks Kentucky 13th out of the 14 league teams despite notable improvement:

13. Kentucky: The quarterback position is muddy, with Patrick Towles battling Drew Barker. The Wildcats have to find consistent playmakers at receiver, the offensive line needs work, the defensive line was gutted and the secondary needs help. Coach Mark Stoops said he felt better about this team exiting spring, but a ton of questions remain. Stoops is all about defense, and we’ll really see what he’s made of with this group.

I’d argue that the quarterback position isn’t that muddy (although not official, Towles seems like a considerable favorite), but there are a lot of unknowns. Like we’ve said all along, this is the year Stoops needs to show us something. Hopefully it’ll be enough to get to a bowl game.

If you’re curious, here’s Aschoff’s 1-14:

1. Auburn
2. Georgia
3. Ole Miss
4. Alabama
5. Arkansas
6. Tennessee
7. Mississippi State
8. LSU
9. Missouri
10. Texas A&M
11. South Carolina
12. Florida
13. Kentucky
14. Vanderbilt

Before you get too discouraged, keep in mind that ESPN’s Mark Schlabach has eight SEC teams in his “Too early Top 25,” which was also released today. The SEC also had the most draft picks of any conference in the country with 54. The next closest? The ACC with 47. There’s a reason they call this a man’s league.

[ESPN]


The 5 Best Parts of Bud Dupree’s Tour of Pittsburgh

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It’s been quite a weekend for Bud Dupree, who was drafted 22nd by the Pittsburgh Steelers on Thursday night. Dupree made his first trip ever to Pittsburgh this weekend, and a Steelers camera crew followed him around as he took a tour of the city. You can see the entire video on Steelers.com (they are Team No Embed), but here are my five favorite parts:

1. It’s May 4th, so MAY THE FOURTH BE WITH YOU, especially if you’re seen that joke a million times this morning. The most random part of the video is when someone gives Bud a painting of Yoda:

Screen Shot 2015-05-04 at 11.30.33 AM

#WhyNot?

2. This woman who was out of breath after running to see Dupree, whom she called “the Steelers’ future”:

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“You gonna take a very nice picture for me!”

3. Bud holding a lobster, because nothing says Pittsburgh like lobster?

Screen Shot 2015-05-04 at 11.33.22 AM

4. This sandwich, which the folks at Primanti Bros. made Bud make:

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I don’t know about that sandwich (is that sauerkraut? Fries on a sandwich?), but the lady who makes it with Dupree seems awesome.

5. Bud surrounded by a large group of children, only half of which seem to know the Steelers fight song:

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I don’t know if that kid in the gray shirt even knows where he is right now.

Enjoy yourself, Bud.

[Steelers.com]


Will Kentucky take a look at LaGerald Vick?

After striking out on Jaylen Brown, Kentucky’s roster for next season is probably set; however, there is still a chance Jamal Murray reclassifies and considers the Cats, and now, there may be another option: four-star wing LaGerald Vick. Vick decommitted from SMU this weekend and although he is currently a 2016 prospect, he is reportedly considering reclassifying to 2015. If so, expect to hear his name A LOT the next few weeks. The 6’5″ 180 lbs. Vick is currently ranked the 30th best shooting guard in the 2016 class.

So far, we haven’t heard of interest from either side, but wing is one position in which Kentucky could use some more help next season. Something to keep an eye on this week…


Derek Anderson apologizes to Dakari, John Calipari, and the Big Blue Nation

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Last week, Derek Anderson made waves with his interview on Drew Deener’s show in which he said some not so nice things about the state of Kentucky program, John Calipari, and Dakari Johnson. Anderson came on the show Thursday morning and tried to explain his comments and tell fans he didn’t realize he was on a Louisville radio show.

Over the weekend, Anderson wrote an open letter on Cameron Mills’ website in which he apologized to John Calipari, Dakari Johnson, and the Big Blue Nation:

An Open Letter To Coach Calipari, Dakari Johnson & Big Blue Nation

First let me apologize to Dakari Johnson if he felt offended by my example of what I meant for players to stay in school is more important than rushing to the NBA. I want the best for EVERY player and person on this earth so my intent was to hopefully bring the awareness of what could happen. I want to apologize to Coach Cal if I offended him as my comments where my opinion in which ALL UK fans and people have made in which they where not meant to be taken personal like some people chose to do.

I Love UK to the bone and have been there thru the bad and good times because we are a family. When Noel got hurt, I came! When Alex got hurt, I came! Coach ask me to speak to team, I came! I was speaking my opinion about why “I” thought we lost the last two seasons and it came out harsh in which I apologize for that.  But for people to attack my character is not something I take lightly as I am human and make mistakes. This message is to those that love UK like me, I was wrong and I’m moving on by supporting BBN as always. But if you have a problem with me, then don’t expect me to be kind to you in return. This is a sport and not a place to defame a man’s character in which I never once disrespected anyone’s character.

When coach yells at his players and tells them they played bad in front of BBN, I did the same and again, it wasn’t the right thing to do on my part. But NEVER will I allow others to attack me as a Man!

I am truly greatful for all the love and support from the University of Kentucky, BBN, and alumni.
I am True Blue always!!! #BBN4Life

Love,

DA

If you missed Derek’s appearance on our show, click here to listen to the podcast.

[CameronMillsRadio.com]


Anthony Davis finishes fifth in NBA MVP voting

Photo via SLAM Magazine

After only his third season in the league, Anthony Davis finished fifth in the NBA MVP vote. Stephen Curry won the award, followed by James Harden, LeBron James, Russell Westbrook, and Davis. Here’s the vote total:

It’s only a matter of time before Davis wins the award, but congrats to Steph. As a Davidson alum, it’s a great day to be a Wildcat.


Several Cats sign undrafted free agent deals

By now, you probably know that Bud Dupree was drafted 22nd by the Pittsburgh Steelers and Za’Darius Smith 122nd to the Baltimore Ravens, but what about the rest of the Cats that went out for the draft? Here’s a quick wrap-up of their next moves:

Braylon Heard, running back: Heard was invited to the Cleveland Browns’ rookie mini-camp, but UK running backs’ coach Chad Scott tweeted that Heard has signed with Tampa Bay.

Javess Blue, wide receiver: Signed with Green Bay Packers

Ronnie Shields, tight end: Signed with the Seattle Seahawks

Demarco Robinson, wide receiver: Invited to the Cleveland Browns rookie mini-camp

Darrian Miller, offensive tackle: Signed with the Cleveland Browns

Good luck, boys.


Recapping a fun Derby weekend (Monday Show Thread)

@Bradley_Cn2

Good morning, friends and welcome to the Monday edition of Kentucky Sports Radio, or as it should be today, Story Time Sports Radio. Matt and Ryan attended several of the Derby festivities this weekend, which means it’s time to pull up your mat for story time.

They’ll also discuss what happened with Jaylen Brown, whether or not the 2015 recruiting class is finished, and a big week on the show, which includes Wednesday’s GOP Gubernatorial Debate and Karl Towns possibly hosting on Thursday.

Join in on the fun by calling (502) 571-1080.

Listen to Kentucky Sports Radio

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BTI’s Rants and Ramblings: What are the 10 Oddest Stats in UK Basketball History?

When you have a program as rich in tradition and history as the UK basketball program, you also come across some really odd facts and figures.  A lot of great players, coaches, games, and moments have graced this program.  But today’s post is not going to focus on those things.  This post is going to focus on the weird things.  I have compiled a list of my 10 favorite UK oddities and I want to know your thoughts on these 10 things, as well as some oddities you remember in your time as fans.

My list, put your additions into the comments section.

1. The UK head coach who had the worst winning percentage: Basil Hayden, who had a 18.7% win percentage at Kentucky.  He also has his jersey retired.

2. Kentucky is 14-0 in games played in the city of Memphis but has never played the University of Memphis in that city.  They have played Ole Miss 6 times in that city though.

3. Before scoring 41 points in the NCAA title game in 1978, Jack Givens had scored over 30 points ONCE in his other 122 UK games.

4. Half of Kentucky’s Top 20 all-time scorers only played 3 years at the school.

5. Despite his recruiting reputation, Rick Pitino did not have a single Mcdonald’s All-American in 5 of his 8 classes.

6. 6 times an opposing player has scored 50 or more points against UK and all 6 were either Pete Maravich or Austin Carr.

7. Brandon Knight scored more points in his 1 UK season than Forest Sale, Phil Grawemeyer, Cliff Barker, Gayle Rose, Layton Rouse, and Basil Hayden did in their careers.  Those 6 players all have retired jerseys.

8. Adolph Rupp only had 1 undefeated team and that team did not win the national title (1954)

9. If Rod Rhodes had played in 1996, and scored his career scoring average that season (12.2 ppg), he would have finished as the school’s 11th all-time leading scorer.

10. UK has only had 2 players serve in the military since 1970: Charles Hurt and Carlos Toomer


Wendy’s Top Ten Tweets of the Weekend

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We’re kicking up the heat with 5 layers of spice on our new Jalapeño Fresco Spicy Chicken sandwich. It’s our classic spicy chicken breast topped with fresh, diced jalapeños, ghost pepper sauce, Colby pepper jack cheese all on a red jalapeno bun. It’s too hot to last, so try one today!
___________________________________________________________________ You can be a part of Wendy’s KSR Top Ten Tweets by using hashtags like #KSR #BBN or #KSRtopten. If we like what we see, it could be posted the next day. Now. On to the tweets:

#10 Hal Bomar

This sounds like that would be a great roller coaster to invest in.

 

 

 


#9 Patrick Butcher

This is creepy to me.

 

 

 

#8 Carl Broaddus

He looks like a winner to me.

 

 

 

 

 

#7 Travis Barker

Relationship goals.

 

 

 

 

 

#6 Travis Utley

Hey! I still have faith that will eventually happen.

 

 

 

 

 

#5 Twillie Stein

Agreed. So much better.

 

 

 

 

 

#4 Brian Alexander

It all makes sense now.

 

 

 

 

 

 

#3 Kyle Bradshaw

It wouldn’t surprise me if it were true.

 

 

 

 

 

#2 KentuckySportsReport

WHO IS SHE?

 

 

 

 

 

#1 Lauren Dozier

This is everything.

@Sealey_KSR


May 3rd, 2015

Kentucky Derby’s Monday News and Views

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It has been a looooooong but awesome weekend in Louisville and after writing over 1,000 words on recruiting (scroll down or go back on the KSR app to read it), the reality is that I am a little tired. So this will probably be quick so I can watch Veep (which is awesome) and read “The Sixth Extinction” (which is eye-opening).

— The big news is of course the loss of Jaylen Brown to California. Say whatever you want about the oddness of the decision (and it is quite odd) or the bizarre schools these kids are attending (Miss St, LSU, UNLV, Cal…sure thing guys), but it would have been nice for Kentucky to have grabbed one more player. It still isn’t over…the Cats have a chance with Jamal Murray but he must first decide to reclassify and then buy into the Kentucky system. There could also be a potential last minute surprise with a transfer or 2016 reclassification, but neither is assured. I still believe UK is one player away from being great but I also believe they can be very good as constituted. The Cats have two of the best Point Guards in America (who will play together), the likely #1 pick in next year’s draft, a Senior leader on a mission and a number of role players who have the potential to step up and surprise (Lee, Matthews, Mulder, Willis, Hawkins). If they get one more guy at the right position, they are good. But even if they don’t, this team will have more talent on the roster than virtually every team they play (only Duke and LSU would be close…and LSU may or may not have actual human coaches on the sideline). It won’t be like last year but it will still be fun to watch a team grow…and I will likely get few, if any, calls on why Calipari isn’t playing Willis or Hawkins.

— It was a good weekend for UK with the NFL Draft. While the Cats didn’t break any records with Draftees (they had two), it was an important step for the program nonetheless. The Cats got only their third FIRST round draft pick in 30 years with Bud Dupree and his positioning with the Steelers is great for UK. Playing linebacker for Pittsburgh is a marquee position and the Steeler Nation seems to love the pick. If he has success at a place that is also close to the UK recruiting base, that can’t help but be good for the Cats. Zadarius Smith goes to the Ravens at another marquee position, the D-Line for Baltimore. Lots of great players have come through those ranks and if Zadarius works and makes it happen there, he has a real chance for success with a great franchise. Throw in the fact that Louisville had a huge Draft haul (10 picks…which is really impressive for them but also means they just lost a TON OF talent for next year), and the Cats can consider the weekend a positive heading into the crucial third year for Mark Stoops.

— I think UK is close to completing its non-conference schedule for next year. We know about the Duke game in Chicago, Ohio State in Brooklyn, UCLA in Los Angeles, South Florida in Miami, Louisville in Lexington, a true road game in the Big 12 (rumored to be either Kansas or an Oklahoma school) and Eastern Kentucky in Rupp. I still think there is a decent chance a strong home game is still on the horizon as well, which would complete a pretty difficult trek for the new team.

— The UK guys were the stars of the Derby. We ended up in the same place as them often this weekend and they were the hits wherever they went. The Harrisons, Dakari, Willie and Booker were the toasts of the town and I saw them be wonderful with fans who took pictures with them by the bundles. Celebrities came up wanting to meet them as well, including Rob Gronkowski who introduced himself to the Twins and said he enjoyed watching Kentucky this year (and at the two parties where I was with Gronk in attendance, he seemed to enjoy most every part of the weekend). The best story may however be Karl Towns, who came to Ferdinand’s Ball on Thursday night and spent some time with me and Drew. I asked him if he was going to Derby or any other festivities. He said no, he was going home and I when I asked why he said, “I want to go to the Derby but I will be back in Kentucky a lot in my life and can do it then…but right now I just want to go home and spend time with my mom.” How great is he?

Finally, I hope you listened to KSR on Friday, because if you did, you would have hit the trifecta. The four horses we mentioned on the show ended up being the top four in the Derby and a couple of you told me you hit the Superfecta with all four (well done…we didn’t even do that.) I hit the trifecta for the third year in the row, but the payout was modest because I took the advice I gave (go heavy on one favorite on top and light on a second favorite on top) and my second favorite was American Pharoah. My group (they just give the money to me and say spend it wisely like a hedge fund manager) thus had a modest win, but left a ton on the table if Pharoah had been my heavy over Dortmund. Oh well, you live and learn. Either way, I hope you had a fun Derby on what was as beautiful a day as I can ever remember for the first Saturday in May.

Big week this week on KSR Radio…Republican Governor’s Debate on Wednesday and (maybe, not assured yet) Karl Towns hosting Thursday. Should be fun.


Drake Jackson and Landon Young Discuss Committing to UK

drake

Justin Rowland from Rivals was at the Rivals Camp in St. Louis this weekend and caught up with Drake Jackson and Landon Young, two huge commits for Kentucky football.

The two offensive linemen discussed being committed to Kentucky despite having offers from schools like Alabama and Ohio State as well as competing to be better than the other as they get ready to head to Lexington. The Rivals Camp takes place in 15 different cities with players from Rivals100 competing in various events to move on to the finals, held in Baltimore in early June.

Oh, and in case there were any doubts about Jackson or Young flipping, Rowland tweeted this out:

#StoopsTroops


So What Happened with Jaylen Brown?

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This group of young girls watching Jared Polson speak at a church recently are similar to how UK fans were in hoping to get one more recruit

There have been some strange recruiting decision moments in my time here on KSR. There was the time we had a cell phone held up at the Patrick Patterson press conference in order to play the audio live over my (virtually unheard) radio show. There have been the countless streams of grainy video from high school gyms across America, as UK fans crash all viewing parties with their sheer numbers. And there was the year that all of UK’s decisions were part of a reality show, that showcased the traveling circus that can be UK basketball. However few decisions for me were more random than the one Friday night with Jaylen Brown. I was at the Barnstable Brown party with Drew Franklin and about 25-30 UK fans, all waiting anxiously for the Brown decision. The group was outfitted in tuxedos and surrounded by celebrities but the only thing anyone cared about was where Brown would go. When the text came through that he had picked California, I announced it to the group and the look of shock was ubiquitous. HOW COULD HE DO THAT? I just shook my head and answered the same way I have explained the Newman, Zimmerman and other decisions this year with two words, “That’s Recruiting.”

It has been an odd string of losses for UK and it is clear that the continued punches to the gut have weighed on the fanbase. Just one week ago, it looked as if Jaylen Brown had virtually no chance of picking Kentucky, but then things changed. Kentucky moved up on Brown to such a degree that most around Lexington believed the Cats had him. The last Friday was a circus of activity. A national recruiting insider sent me this text around noon, “it is Kentucky or California…I think he has eliminated Michigan but don’t tell anyone because the kid doesn’t want it out.” Not telling anyone was easy (it was Oaks day and the distractions were everywhere) but the sentiment made me feel great. I was hesitant to eliminate Michigan since most of the world seemed to think they were the favorite, but if it was Kentucky and California, how could a kid from Atlanta, Ga who wants to be in the NBA not pick Kentucky? During the Oaks I got a text that the folks in Lexington were feeling good about their chances and that “everyone will be by their phones this weekend.” One national recruiting writer even went so far as to tell me he had the Brown to Kentucky story written, because he felt it was close to done. Then Friday night came…and the pick was California. Amazing.

At the end of the day, this much is clear. The platoon system killed Kentucky on the recruiting trail in the final weeks. What was a huge positive during the season, because it showcased how Calipari would take care of his kids and a group of players could sacrifice their individual interests for a collective goal, became a hammer that opposing coaches pounded UK with on the recruiting trail. One source told me, “Zimmerman, Newman, Diallo and Swanigan all four at some point probably had UK as their leader…and all four were barraged with the platoon talk all season.” Even though Calipari told the recruits that the platoon thing was a one time deal and told parents that people should look at it as a positive (he takes care of all his kids), the worry about playing time being sacrificed made kids who were UK leans turn into open recruits. After seven players declared for the Draft, Kentucky then found itself behind in recruitments that it once led in (Zimmerman, Newman) and forced to play catchup on recruitments where it had trailed (Ingram, Brown). Everyone assumed someone would bite…but slowly no one did as the characteristic which made the 2015 team so special was used to help weaken the crop that would make up the 2016 version.

In Brown’s particular case, another factor was at play. A source close to the situation told me on Sunday that “Jaylen Brown is one kid where the UK media/fan attention actually hurt UK’s chances.” According to the source, Brown expressed to a number of people the worry that the attention at UK was overwhelming and might be more than he would like to deal with. All season long, Brown has avoided the media spotlight…he didn’t do a ton of interviews, his people leaked almost nothing to the press and he also chose to make his announcement without any tv cameras or press in attendance. Instead he did it after a team banquet, and the only reason people knew it was happening was due to a school student fan section Twitter account (how random is that?). Brown’s choice of California was for a variety of reasons but those close to the recruitment said a big one was the circus that UK basketball was the year/has been for decades. “For most players, UK being on Sportcenter every night and having fans blowing up their twitter account is a positive…but Jaylen is one of the few that saw it as a negative.”

So now we are where we are. Jamal Murray is still on the board, but his status at this moment is unclear. He may not want to reclassify to 2015 and if he does, issues of him fitting into the UK system/shunning an Oregon program that has been on him for some time will still come into play. His situation should be more clear at some point this week. There is still always the chance another player could pop up (either by transfer or a potential 2016 reclassification), but fans should come closer to accepting the very real possibility that this UK team as constituted may be the final draft. A very good year is still quite possible. It requires a few variables to break a certain way (Alex be healthy, Skal totally eligible, Derek Willis ready to make a step up), but if those things happen, the Cats can still be very good. But absent Murray or a last minute surprise, Brown’s pick of Cuonzo Martin and former UK Assistant Tracy Webster (who was Cuonzo’s lead recruiter for Cal on Brown), may have made the roster what it will be…a group with lots of talent, lots of questions and the a vow to never use the word “platoon” again.


How to Keep Champion Thoroughbreds from Becoming Dog Food

Casiguapo | Morning Work | Keeneland | 04-07-14

After American Pharoah’s thrilling victory yesterday during the most exciting two minutes in sports, it’s instructive to remember an earlier Run for the Roses nearly three decades ago.  The 1986 Kentucky Derby was a sentimental, even magical affair, as the legendary 54 year old jockey Willie Shoemaker finally captured the only major racing prize that had eluded him — the winner’s circle rose garland.  The Shoe had steered Ferdinand, a 17-1 long shot California three year old, from last place through a heavy traffic jam in the stretch, to a 2 1/4 length victory at the wire.  Ferdinand emerged as a national figure, later sealing his own legend with an historic photo finish Breeders’ Classic upset over the mighty Alysheba, clinching Horse of the Year honors in 1987.

It’s also instructive to consider the retirement arc of that champion thoroughbred.  After only modest success at breeding talented offspring — Ferdinand was apparently a fighter, not a lover — he was sold to Japanese interests in 1994.  In 2002, at the relatively young age of 19, he was “disposed of” in a Japanese slaughterhouse.  While Ferdinand might have wound up as a gourmet steak at an upscale Toyko restaurant, the most likely fate of this elite athlete was in the form of processed pet food.

No other Derby winner has met the same despicable demise.  In fact, since this tragedy was exposed, many sales contracts for prized stallions now include a “Ferdinand clause,” enabling the seller to repurchase a horse after his career at stud is complete.

Every year, however, an estimated 150,000 U.S. horses are sent to Canadian or Mexican slaughterhouses to feed horse-hungry palates in Europe, South America and Asia.  More than 10,000 of them are thoroughbreds.

At the center of this practice are middlemen known as “kill buyers,” whose profitable profession consists of gathering up horses for slaughter and then transporting them across the U.S. border.  They purport to offer a valuable service to the industry:  With the sport of racing in serious economic distress, kill buyers provide financial recompense to struggling owners, and profess to provide a more humane alternative to the abandonment and slow starvation of unwanted horses.

But mercy killing it’s not.  Horses are hauled to their death in long transports to Mexico or Canada, often with only very minimal food, water or sleep.  The slaughtering process can be deeply gruesome — in some reported cases, horses experience excruciating pain while partially conscious as they are bled out and then dismembered.

And in all-too-common cases when an international slaughter house deal goes bad, the kill buyers themselves will routinely abandon horses to which they’ve been entrusted.  In one disheartening instance this year, described by the equine investigator as “the worst case of animal cruelty I’ve seen,” a kill buyer in Pendleton County, Kentucky was charged with 15 counts of animal cruelty after examiners found 49 dead carcasses and 15 severely emaciated, barely alive horses on his property.  Another kill buyer in nearby Mason County was charged last year with second-degree animal cruelty when 16 dead horses were found improperly disposed on his land.

It doesn’t take a vegan-swearing, leather-protesting PETA activist to be disturbed. Particularly here in the Bluegrass State, we have a special bond with the gallant steed — akin to that of a beloved family pet — who we name, groom, feed, nurture, ride, cherish and celebrate.  That other cultures find their meat appetizing is nauseating; the brutal and macabre process that leads them to the dinner table is infuriating.

It’s also a matter of simple economics.  Horse racing is responsible for more than 100,000 jobs and a $4 billion economic impact in Kentucky alone.  And a 2011 report commissioned by the industry vanguard Jockey Club revealed that the recent steep decline in fan support for the sport — particularly among younger Americans — is in appreciable part due to concerns over animal safety and welfare.

Of course…declining revenues…lead to more desperate owners…who view kill buyers as a financial lifeline.  This vicious circle can only be interrupted if this vicious practice is prohibited.

Fortunately, the anti-slaughter movement has been buoyed by the activism of a powerful ally: the thoroughbred industry itself. Just as with the battle against the use of performance-enhancing drugs in the sport, leading breeders, owners and enthusiasts have argued that for racing to rebound from its decades-long decline, a focus on the sanctity of the horse itself is in order.

Both Churchill Downs and Keeneland have joined a growing number of national racetracks who’ve enacted stringent anti-slaughter policies that impose penalties — including race bans — on anyone who is caught selling a horse to a slaughter house or to an intermediary auction.  Thoroughbred enthusiasts have developed organizations that adopt and protect unwanted horses — such as Georgetown’s nationally-lauded Old Friends home – and provide a dignified retirement to thoroughbreds after their profitable years have ended.  The prestigious and influential National Thoroughbred Racing Association has instituted a variety of horse-protection programs that promote the rescue of horses that are in danger of cruel disposal.

Voluntary industry action, though, has its limits.  Banning horse slaughter, and the practices that facilitate it, requires federal legislation.  While no permanent law prohibits horse slaughter in the U.S., Congress has overwhelmingly passed a series of spending bills since 2007 that have effectively shuttered domestic slaughter houses (a rare cause embraced by both President Barack Obama and Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell).

By contrast, efforts to ban the export of horses to slaughter abroad have continually failed.  Some reform advocates charge Senate Minority Leader Harry Reid with running interference for Nevada cattlemen who find the practice a convenient way to rid their lands of wild horses.

But with a less powerful, lame duck Reid ambling toward his own retirement, legislation introduced last week could finally extinguish the practice.  The Safeguard American Food Exports (SAFE) Act, H.R. 1942, would prohibit the transport of American horses for human consumption abroad, while also permanently forbidding the reestablishment of slaughterhouses in the U.S.  As its title reveals, the bill is shrewdly promoted as a food safety initiative:  Unlike cattle and poultry, horses are not raised to be consumed — there’s no FDA oversight to prohibit the use of drugs that could be toxic to people — so the practice poses severe human health risks in the U.S. and abroad.   The bill already boasts broad bi-partisan support in the House, with 41 original co-sponsors, including Western Kentucky GOP Congressman Ed Whitfield, and Louisville’s Democratic Representative John Yarmuth.

Of course, in our polarized and paralyzed political system, the passage of any legislation faces dark horse odds. But as the industry continues to recognize that its future is dependent on the public’s trust, popular support could ensure legislative reform.  Best of all, a meaningful focus on the noble animal itself could one day reinstall horse racing to its rightful place as the sport of kings.

(This piece was cross-posted at The Daily Beast)