Melissa Hoppert, horse-racing writer for The New York Times, reporter-producer “Broken Horses”

by | May 22, 2024

Melissa Hoppert–a horse-racing writer for The New York Times, and one of two reporter-producers (with Times colleague Joe Drape) featured onscreen in the new horse-racing documentary, “Broken Horses,” a New York Times/FX production streaming on Hulu—recalls becoming enchanted with the horse racing realm as a young girl, after an uncle married into a horse breeding family, and she saw her first race.This spurred a discussion of how the horse racing world is propelled by multiple cultures, including, at the micro level, families who routinely visit one or more tracks, observe other rituals—often regarding clothing, food or drink—kids learn to read The Racing Form, and so on. These children pass all this along to their children. Over the course of generations, these family cultures seem to feed into—and help shape, really—the horse racing culture. Not coincidentally, a number of the talking heads featured in “Broken Horses” are members of multi-generational horse racing families. They tend to express concern about the sport’s darker trends—like “the rise of the super trainer,” as epitomized by Bob Baffert—that appear to have yielded more illicit drug use, and more clusters of horse deaths. Hoppert reflects on Baffert, a polarizing figure, who (as she points out in the film) has generated nearly $350 million in earnings, has trained the Triple Crown winners American Pharoh and Justify—among many notable victories—yet is currently suspended at Churchill Downs, chiefly owing to his horse Medina Spirit failing a drug test at the 2021 Kentucky Derby. She adds her thoughts on Churchill Downs extending the suspension, miffed that Baffert was sidestepping responsibility for the transgression, saying in an interview that he wouldn’t do anything differently. I asked her if she viewed Baffert as plus or minus for horse racing. Her answer: “both.” Hoppert articulates the contrasting viewpoints in the industry about implementing reformations—a bit of a culture clash—with tremendous amounts of money at stake, an evolution away from just big purses (which themselves have increased dramatically, the film states), to not only bigger payoffs for horse sales, but also lotto-like jackpots in the breeding market. She shares her optimism for the gradual efficacy of the Horseracing Integrity and Safety Authority (HISA), a relatively new private organization that regulates the sport of Thoroughbred horse racing through the implementation of “a national, uniform set of integrity and safety rules that are applied consistently to every Thoroughbred racing participant and racetrack facility.” ( Photo Courtesy of The New York Times; Horse Photos Courtesy of FX Networks)

ALSO: I spoke briefly with Kelly Harris, owner of Goat Yoga Tampa about the class they were offering at Cigar City Brewing on Saturday, May 25. It’s not just a session of morning yoga, but—as the name suggests–one in which goats will jump around, interact & play during the class. Harris provides some brief history, both of goat yoga overall (founded in 2017, in Oregon), and Goat Yoga Tampa, noting that their 6 goats are pets who live with Harris and her family. She notes that goat yoga classes tend to be marked by natural goat behaviors, like jumping, which she explains is a natural movement as a prey animal, often exhibited in the classes when the yogis assume certain positions. Harris also points out a distinctive perk of their goat yoga classes: yogis get a cold one—a free beer—afterwards. They often have one or two classes scheduled, at various location—check their website or social media pages. (,,

COMEDY CORNER: John Mulaney’s “A Horse In A Hospital”  **from a panel appearance on “Colbert” (

MUSIC: Rebekah Pulley’s “Talking Animals Theme,” instrumentals

NAME THAT ANIMAL TUNE:  We didn’t play “Name That Animal Tune” today.


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