My Old Man Ponderings are often fun and I hope humorous. This one, and a series that will follow, will be a little different.
You see, it’s Derby week and the media will deluge all of us with romantic racing stories and contrived drama. Then there’s me and I have been pondering my future involvement in racing, after 100 or so wins as an owner, a breeder and stallion owner. Why? Because the ever-declining sport I once so dearly loved just continues on a delusional path I have slowly been coming to regret.
This epiphany jumped into my consciousness a few weeks ago. I was reading headlines associated with the North American Thoroughbred racing industry, and their 2020 Equine Industry Database (EID). The EID reflected a decline in the fatality rate from 2019 and various headlines included comments like, “2020 Fatality Rate Lowest in History, or Lowest Since Record Keeping Began”.
Curiously, other headlines during the same month or so included comments like “13 Counts of Cruelty Against a Kentucky Boarding Operation”, “Owner Put on No Entry List after Horse Found in Kill Pen”, “Thoroughbred Retirement Foundation Opens”, “Can Racing Survive Bad People?”, “Daily Wagering Sees Decline in March”, “Pennsylvania Breeders Address Slaughter Pipeline Issues”, “Churchill Shortsighted for Selling Arlington”, “Horse Racing Integrity and Safety Act Polarizing”.
Of course, I realize that many racing headlines like the EID headline are often contrived to create the illusion of progress in the steeply declining Thoroughbred racing industry. However, another quote related to the EID headlines indicated that authorities were “thrilled to see improvement”, and that racetracks and regulatory authorities should be commended for such improvement. Thrilled? Commended? Really?
After thinking long and hard about racing, and reviewing the entire body of racing industry progress associated with “humane” equine treatment, I concluded that a thrilled reaction to the recent EID fatality data point is the equivalent of being thrilled that people do not drown as fast in eight feet of water as they do in 15!
You see, after spending my lifetime learning that apparent facts are often misleading and sometimes false, I know that those who comment on data are not worth a damn unless they provide “comparative context”. Any study or data set is simply data. Only context provides information, and I’m sorry to say I dismissed many an analyst in my business career for failing to live up to their responsibility and “create understanding”! It doesn’t matter if you are reading the bible, studying Covid infection rates or looking at Thoroughbred racing fatalities, context matters.
Over the next few blog ponderings I will provide context on the sport of Thoroughbred racing. I will also discuss how racing, now half of what it was a couple of decades ago, can be saved. To do this I will reveal some ugly truths and data evidence surrounding Thoroughbred slaughter, dangerous racing surfaces, mediocre and irrelevant reporting systems, some great Thoroughbred aftercare retirement organizations, how to change the racing economic model to fund horses throughout their 20 to 25 lifetime (rather than just their 3 or 4 year racing career), the horse industry organizations fighting tooth and nail to prevent the implementation of the federally passed Horse Racing and Safety Integrity Act, and the SAFE Act which would make transportation of Thoroughbreds for foreign country slaughter illegal.
Yep, a lack of real Thoroughbred industry progress, coupled with continuing delusion by racing powers who think miniscule improvement helps when mountains should have been moved long ago, creates a dismal clarity in my mind.
Eight feet of water my friends.
Well our last Minnesota bred horse horse runs his last race down South today before coming back up North with trainer Gary Scherer. Caramel Angel, a 4 year old gelding, has now won near $60,000 and knocked off quite a few open company horses (those bred in states other than Minnesota) by winning in both Illinois and Louisiana.
Now after losing most of his conditions, (he can no longer run in races for maidens, non-winners of 2 races or non-winners of 3 races), he is way up in class and running in a $56,000 allowance race today.
Gary (Big G), has done a marvelous job with this high strung yearling I once had to push into a trailer here on our Kentucky farm, with 5 other people, just to load him after he was sedated! This guy has been taught to win from the front and back, while also winning on both the dirt and turf against nothing but open company horses.
Now we simply hope everyone has a safe trip today during Caramel's final warm weather tune up (4th race at Fairgrounds) before heading up to the friendly confines of Canterbury Park to run against other Minnesota breds this summer.
A few folks asked me about my general post yesterday associated with racing, and how the virus will likely impact racing operations. Minnesota questions were raised since we have many friends still involved there. I don't have a crystal ball so I can only be led by the data, and yesterday's US virus deaths were very sadly just under 1000.
I hope Minnesota racing can open soon but I also just noticed the racetrack has furloughed over 800 people because they have been completely shut down. Minnesota also has an underlying issue with field size since the 2019 numbers were the lowest in the last couple decades. In addition, the MN breeding program has not produced good results, with consistent declines and 2019 numbers also being the lowest for mares bred and foals in the last two decades. Both numbers appear to have dropped an amazing 40% or so in just the last year based upon currently published data.
I would like to be more optimistic but not knowing when MN racing and gaming can begin, and a building problem associated with state bred horses being available to back fill race cards, the issues I mentioned yesterday for all racing jurisdictions in the economic middle and lower tiers likely stand.
Across the country people have rightfully made the decision that lives are more important than livelihood. This reality has always been understood but, the pandemic we currently face has deepened that understanding.
Some industries that have been growing like crazy during good economic times will have no problem weathering the storm. Some companies are actually expanding, like Amazon and Walmart, to serve consumers in a new social distancing or stay at home consumer environment. Unfortunately, the American racing industry is another story.
With only a handful of American racetracks now remaining open for online wagering, (2 this Tuesday and 5 this Friday), some negative impacts are obvious. Less obvious are the future impacts that underlie racing’s economic future. The people really paying the bills, racehorse owners, are still writing checks for horse care and training without any purse revenue to offset those expenses. This dynamic, which may be similar to certain other industries, is not one that can be stomached over a period of time in an industry already in serious economic trouble.
Racing has experienced a very consistent and extremely disturbing decline over the last 3 decades. The foal crop (product production), number of races (revenue opportunities) and inflation adjusted pari-mutuel handle (revenue) have all been essentially cut in half over the last 30 years. Recent trends reflect an average near 2.0 - 2.5% annual decline in all those indicators. Very few other industries were suffering economic distress anything like the horse racing industry was prior to the Covid-19 outbreak.
What this means is that the lower and middle economic tier owners, not the very rich, are going to have some serious decisions to make. Will they continue to play the racehorse ownership game or decide to that the funds they risk in racing might be better used to deal with stressed living expenses, or be put into a rainy-day fund now that everybody really understands what a rainy day looks like? At a minimum, “fear reactions” following a crisis like the one we are all experiencing today, forces a re-evaluation of priorities. It is unlikely that racehorse ownership is going to be considered a high priority going forward, after a pervasive historical human and environmental crisis has occurred.
This means that middle and lower tier economic owners will never forget owning racehorses, at a monthly cost ranging from $2,500 to $5,000 per horse, without any possibility of earning purses to offset those expenses. Approximately, 8 to 9 out of every 10 horse owners lose money on their horses every year when things are normal, so it is not unusual for them to experience financial loss in the horse business. However, trainers always expect and demand that owners keep paying their bills because trainers in the same middle to lower economic tiers have no capability to pay their workers, and horses still need to be cared for.
Though it is likely that the top of the typical bell-shaped pandemic curve will start to flatten out and be recognized in America by mid to late April, the 2 to 3-month shutdown in most racing environments will have a long reaching impact. In other words, this pandemic is not typical. It is not like a normal disaster such as a tornado, hurricane or flood. This pandemic, and the reaction which forced an extreme change in lifestyle all across America, will cause everyone to evaluate the future differently and prepare for the next battle.
Owners in the lower and middle economic tier will reduce or eliminate their stables. They will demand retirement of many of their lower earning horses, putting a strain on the racehorse retirement organizations. These owners will also be much less willing to purchase new horses or breed. The influx of new owners, essential to racing's need to annually replace those that leave the game, will also be greatly reduced. Sales will suffer, particularly sales the next year or two as an over-supply of sale horses meets a low demand, thus creating a downstream strain on the many organizations that breed and sell racehorses. Sales volumes and medians will decline.
With all of this said, there will be an inevitable decline in the middle and lower economic tier racetracks, breeders, trainers and owners. In other words, the minor leagues of American racing that have been contracting over the last three decades may not survive, and will at best see a more pronounced decline in key economic indicators. The media pressure related to fatality rates and Federal indictments will seem like nothing compared to a new universal reality associated with economic priorities.
No, it will not be a good time to be in the minor leagues and while higher end racing will always survive in my view, racing in America might once again become a sport clearly suited to be named “The Sport of Kings”! If only racing would have re-engineered the sport over the last few years, or better said, fixed the roof before the rain started.
Both Turfway and Laurel are installing new synthetic surfaces. Interesting that just 2 days ago in this blog I listed the installation of synthetics as the first and most important change American Racing must make if it wants to slow the decline of American Racing.
Here's the article:
I was recently asked why so many people in the American Racing industry are so critical of the industry they participate in. I was also asked why we critics don’t spend our time offering suggestions for fixing racing. The folks who asked me these questions are members of a large community in racing that think public criticism can only do further damage to the American Racing industry. Both issues, criticisms and solutions, are inextricably linked.
Many strong American Racing critics have spent years suggesting and recommending changes to racing executives, association representatives and regulators. Many of us have joined executive boards and advisory committees. We have also made calls, presented issues, offered solutions, created PowerPoints, written letters and sent emails to those in a position to address issues. What we have often found is that the same people who have authored the massive industry decline, and can regulate change, are only interested in “simple inexpensive, non-conflict oriented quick fixes”. Yep, they are politicians not problem solvers, so multi-faceted integrated solutions which are required to solve complex systemic problems are simply not what politicians seek.
When critics make complex suggestions, they are typically ignored by people who favor inexpensive simplicity and the status quo. The critics naturally assume that those in power must not understand they are in a crisis. Consequently, they attempt to create “crisis understanding”, which can drive organizational innovation and change. Unfortunately, the same people who ignore complex or expensive multi-faceted solutions are also inclined to deny clear evidence of a crisis, particularly when their past action/inaction caused the crisis in the first place.
This is where the American Racing industry has been for many years. Major multi-faceted immediate change and innovation is required to address the mess that is racing, but only slowly evolving simple changes are acceptable to those in charge. So, American Racing industry racing executives, regulators and industry associations ridiculously focus on patronizing consumers with baby step changes, as those same consumers continue to direct their dollars toward more trustworthy and interesting consumer options.
The American Racing crisis is real and has been in evidence for decades. Since 2000 pari-mutuel revenue has dropped 21%, and when inflation is considered, the real dollar decline is 49%! Yep, inflation has averaged over 2% per year since 2000 and that means American Racing is today collecting only half of the real dollar pari-mutuel revenue the industry collected at the turn of the century. On top of this shocking two-decade decline, the number of American foals born has dropped 42%, clearly indicating a dramatic decline in the American consumer need for the American racing product!
Of course, these horrible economic indicators are not significant to folks who conveniently and politically only think from one data point to another. Afterall, revenue only drops 1% each year, while foal volume only goes down about 2% per year, right? Yep, that’s exactly how many people think. They go from data point to data point, never recognizing trends or crisis situations. In fact, there are some people in the industry who think things are getting better, or are sure that a magical change will improve the “bad cycle” fortunes of American Racing. In truth, things are getting worse. Baby steps taken in the industry are claimed to be beneficial, but they are really the equivalent of shuffling the deck chairs to improve the situation on a sinking Titanic.
Last year, based upon a recent industry press release, American Racing saw pari-mutuels decrease by 2.0% while purses went up 4.5. These factors are considerably worse than the prior two-decade averages. The net effect of increasing purse expenses 4.5% and seeing revenue decline 2%, when inflation was over 2% last year, negatively impacts profit/loss ratios by near 10%. In other words, losses are accelerating and 2019 was an awful year for the industry in general.
A quick look at the last 5 years in breeding also shows a near 2% decline per year, but a very disturbing state by state trend. Only Pennsylvania saw an increase in breeding over the last half decade, while Kentucky has only seen a 2% decline. Both the Pennsylvania and Kentucky numbers may seem encouraging on the surface however, those state results mask massively accelerating declines in many states. Many states show severe breeding declines, led by states like Minnesota, Washington and Colorado with declines of 78%, 66% and 64%, in just the last 5 years!
What I find more interesting is breeding versus available purses. By looking at the mares being bred in a state and reflecting that against the annual available purses in a state, a metric of breeding per million dollars of purses emerges. This metric reflects the effect purses should have on breeding activity. For example, if purses (racing expenses) in a state go up, so should breeding activity. If purses are cut, breeding activity should naturally go down.
Over the last half decade, of the 24 meaningful racing and breeding states studied, the breeding per million state average went from 31.7 mares bred million down to 21.5, down 33% (2015 through 2019). In fact, 17 of the 24 states (3 out of every 4) saw an over 30% five-year decline in this critical breeding metric, or 6% on average each year! For example, Washington bred 43 mares/million in their state in 2015, but only 18 in 2019. Minnesota went from breeding 10 mares per million in their state in 2015 to only 2 in 2019.
In Kentucky, where 56% of all Thoroughbred breeding in America breeding occurs, the breeding per million number only dropped 14% over the 5-year period. This means that in aggregate, though American breeders are breeding much less than they did 5 years ago, those mares that they do get bred are being shipped to Kentucky for breeding. While that is really no surprise, the degree to which the breeding economy is drying up in most states is shocking!
The data tells the crisis story. Profit positions are deteriorating, big owners are going bankrupt or leaving American racing altogether, consumers are abandoning the sport, new consumers have no interest in the sport, and individual state breeding economies have been decimated. What should we do? Well here are my short form American Racing answers to that question …. again.
First, we must address very public consumer concerns about safety. All American racetracks need to remove dirt surfaces and replace them with state-of-the-art synthetic surfaces such as Tapeta. The data internationally, and even in American racing itself, indicates synthetics are 50 to 120% "more dangerous" than dirt surfaces. Then we need to implement a “one model safety protocol” for all American racetracks. It’s not just about drugs but it is about no race day medication, prescribed pre-race and workout veterinary inspection protocols, out-of-competition testing, consistent medication limits, high quality testing laboratories, defined and strong violation penalties, appropriate whip limits, and backside monitoring through high definition cameras and microphones to not only inspect for cheating but to prevent it.
Second, address the wagering attraction. Advance the risk analysis mechanisms to create fixed odds wagering. Create wagering plus/minus lines (lengths or finishing positions). Create more horse to horse wagering options. Partner with fantasy experts to create weekend fantasy wagering options. Make all basic data wagering information publicly available and free. Models for all of these wagering options, including the advanced use of mobile or table top kiosk technology, exists in the sports betting industry and elsewhere.
Third, address the live entertainment and sporting attraction. Concentrate on the fan experience by running races on a timely basis every 20 to 25 minutes, and fill the gaps with entertainment, fan tours, behind the scenes perspectives, other “prize worthy or charitable” competitions (MMA, boxing, races, track and field, “safe” pet or farm animal events/racing, etc.) The overall fan experience extends to consumer expectations which racing fails at miserably in most cases, at most racetracks. These include contemporary intuitive website designs, call center answering standard operating procedures, decent on-line reservation services, fine dining quality menu options, cleanliness, improved event view seating, and many elements of onsite consumer interaction. Consumers are treated better when purchasing a $6 movie seat online than they are when trying to wager $500 at a racetrack.
Lastly, the consumer experience extends to marketing. When the fan experience is also considered as part of marketing, both are far from contemporary. The inability of racing to secure effective media contracts or relationships, both nationally and locally, prevent effective fan engagement. Social media, when it is utilized, is utilized incorrectly by almost all American Racing institutions. There has to be an entire revamp of American Racing marketing plans and priorities to create greater focus on consumer emotional connections, and “consistent, not occasional” consumer affiliation with equine and human superstars. This disconnect is both severe and unique to American Horse Racing. It requires a funded “consumer focused” marketing innovation program nationally and locally.
In closing, a multi-faceted approach to innovation is required in the American Racing industry. This typically means a centralized approach, like a National Board or Racing Commissioner’s Office. A centralized approach is probably the only way to control innovation and drive change in a generally dysfunctional industry which has spent decades failing to agree on just about anything consumers care about. “Standard Operating Procedures” exist in profitable quality organizations and industries, but American Racing is decades behind in even creating them, much less implementing them!
Well, I hope this answers the questions for those who have asked. And yes, unlike most presidential candidates today, I know change will cost a lot of money. However, after spending years analyzing and fixing some pretty large businesses and studying quality, I know the unknown and unknowable cost of poor consumer quality is immense, and far outweighs the innovation cost required to fix them. If for example, things were simply the same today as they were in the American Racing industry 20 years ago, pari-mutuel revenue would be up over 11 Billion Dollars, and we would have 15,000 more foals born, in 2020! Do you think those results would have paid for Tapeta surfaces, high definition cameras, decent websites and functionality, additional veterinary inspections and the other hard work suggested?
Oh well, such is life in the American Racing Industry. Those in power will continue to patronize critics and consumers, asking for change suggestions. I’m afraid however that they will also continue to only be interested in inexpensive short-term quick fixes, which by the way will never exist, rather than systemic innovations required to address an industry in crisis.
In early 2019 there was a massive outcry regarding American racehorse safety. Behind all the posturing and patronizing what has the American racehorse industry actually done? The answer, is next to nothing my friends.
While focused on Santa Anita, the entire American Thoroughbred race horse industry experienced a full-frontal safety assault from their own fans, the public, politicians, PETA, HBO and the rest of the media. Today, a simple search of “2019 horse racing deaths” produces over 17,000,000 results! Despite the apparent crisis, American horse racing has addressed this 2019 dilemma with all the vigor of a sleeping dog.
Certainly, the racing industry did something right? Afterall, they contrived little groups to claim how much they care, ran ads, convinced people to publish stories about how great they treat racehorses, and even had a handful of American racetracks take some “inexpensive” baby steps to try and convince the public they actually cared. However, when it’s all said and done, things are essentially the same today as they were in January.
You see, caring is all about sacrificing something to “be sure” you apply the very best methods to creating a “top tier”, not merely adequate, safety environment! We still do things the “American Way”. Here are just a few examples.
We run on unquestionably dangerous dirt surfaces with no plan to transition to much safer Tapeta synthetics or turf. We drug over 95% of all horses “on race day” to mask pain and enhance racehorse performance. We allow rampant state by state variability in medication, therapy protocols, oversight and enforcement. We even still allow over half of the racetracks in America to load hurting horses into starting gates daily without even conducting simple pre-race vet exams.
Of course, the 2019 fatality and safety issues were a public black eye but they are only the tip of a dirty and sinking American racing iceberg. This year the American racing industry officially shrunk to the 53-year lowest point ever in Thoroughbred foal production, which is the key indicator of the diminishing consumer demand for the American racing product. In just 3 decades the industry has been cut in half with no signs of a slow down in the deterioration, as the 2019 annual drop was another 3.6%.
The American racing product still doesn’t include popular sport wagering options with handicaps and lines, or lock in odds at the time wagers are made. It does not have a national authority but instead maintains a dysfunctional state by state structure which promotes massive variation and an entirely uncooperative industry effort. It actually encourages states and racetracks to compete against each other, hurting everybody’s product.
In addition, efforts to prop up the failing consumer product have focused on “non-racing related” subsidies, instead of improving consumer acceptability of the product. Those subsidies are now huge, because the racing product itself continued to decline and is now so poor that it cannot even approach standing on its own from a profit perspective. Couple the product failure with the fact that the industry markets the racing product as if half the media technology used to market competing endeavors doesn’t exist. (Over 99% of the public cannot name last weekend’s big stakes race, much less any horse that participated in it!)
So, 2019 was just business as usual related to change or improvement in American Thoroughbred racing. The trends related to the ongoing wasteful demise, and even a public outcry related to the element of safety in racing, was not enough to dislodge foolish failing momentum.
Meanwhile, the low minded and failing Thoroughbred Racing Industry celebrates foolishness and baby steps when the whole system, including the implementation of best-known scientific safety methods, needs to be incorporated in a modern re-engineering transition. There is absolutely no plan to transition the sport into the future.
Make no mistake. American racing powers have, for years now, made every effort to create the illusion of progress where there was none. 2019 is no different!
Sports betting just kicked off in Iowa today. Minnesotans are now traveling to Iowa to make sports wagers, and their money is contributing to the Iowa economy and horse racing industry! Good for Iowa but bad from Minnesota. There is little doubt that Iowa's racing product and purses will substantially benefit from the additional revenue.
Minnesota Thoroughbred breeding has suffered substantially over the last decade. According to the Jockey Club, Minnesota has seen a 78.1% decline in mares actually bred in the state. That means that for every 100 mares bred in Minnesota back in 2008, only 22 were bred there in 2018. That is a stunningly poor breeding result considering Minnesota had a 59.4% INCREASE in gross purses over the same decade! The 59.4% increase is one of the largest gross state racing purse increases in the country. Minnesota has also seen a 40.6% decline in Thoroughbreds foaled in Minnesota over the last decade of record.
By comparison over the last decade, mares bred nationwide only declined 42.7%, but there was also a 4.1% decline in gross purses nationwide.
Considering the declining fortunes in the Thoroughbred racing and breeding industry, every state must now compete with neighboring states for trainer stables and horses. Iowa's state bred purse structure, which is already near 20% higher than Minnesota's based upon same race condition comparisons, will quickly benefit from sports betting advantages generating an even greater competitive disparity between these two neighboring states.
(All data is public and is based upon Jockey Club published state fact books.)
For more on Prairie Meadows sports betting, here is a link:
After making many mistakes in my life, I finally achieved some success by learning to go to where the data took me. As a statistical quality student and teacher, I have been both satisfied and shocked by “discovered” truths that emerge from a properly conducted analysis. I’ve been satisfied because sometimes the results match my internal biases, opinions and beliefs. I have also been shocked because the results often shake me to my core, differing from those same biases, opinions and beliefs.
There are very few things I enjoy more than seeing people or systems improve once discovered truth is revealed and accepted. On the other hand, nothing makes me more angry than political charlatans who ignore truths, manipulate people, rely on foolish opinions and continue damaging activity. It is with this in mind that I write this blog.
In 2019, racing fatalities have become a huge media headline. Of course, the media cares more about attention, readers or viewers than the truth. Nevertheless, dysfunctional American Racing powers have handled the media attention the way they have handled most things over the last few decades. They are statistically sloppy, inconsistent and political. The industry has slowly, inconsistently, and randomly, put forth partial baby safety steps. These steps will do very little to improve the “equine safety system” nationwide. In other words, American Racing powers have deployed the same failed routine in 2019 as they have for decades.
Yep, because the American Racing Industry has treated this recent media fatality onslaught just like they have treated everything else, with awful consumer awareness and “undisciplined” statistical logic, the media now treats every racing fatality as evidence of an evil and mean industry, which seems willing to sacrifice noble animals for profit.
So, let’s lay out the Real Truths on this subject.
1. Santa Anita, the epicenter of the American Racing problem according to the media, actually had one of their lowest equine fatality counts in the last 9 years. Yep, only 30 horses died during the December 2018 through June 2019 horse racing meet. That 30-horse fatality total is much lower than the prior decade annual average of 40.2!
2. Unfortunately, the 30 deaths mean nothing statistically. We need to relate the actual racing population at a racetrack to the fatalities. Santa Anita had only 5404 starts during the recent meet. That results in 1 “racing or training” death per every 180 starts, and here’s the thing. That number is absolutely NORMAL and should have been expected! The prior decade reflected 1 death for every 188 starts at Santa Anita.
3. The early part of the recent Santa Anita meet resulted in a much higher (more than double) rate of fatalities than the later part of the meet. The why of this statistical variation cannot be discovered. Santa Anita has claimed that their minor safety changes, made in the middle of the meet, were the reason for a decline in fatalities. I think that’s BS and the real reason for the variation was the racetrack surface and massive rains, but I cannot prove this. Nevertheless, the reason cannot be discovered because of the sloppy way in which data is maintained and controlled.
4. Jerry Hollendorfer was suspended. He had a trainer fatality rate outside of normal statistical control limits. He might not have been the only one, but I do not have data on this. He, and any other trainer outside of normal control limits, should have been put on notice that their procedures and fatality rate will be monitored to the point that if they exceed a specific rate over a certain time period (say a rolling 6-month period) they will be suspended. No one should have been summarily suspended without “disciplined statistical control metrics” already in place!
Hollendorfer’s Santa Anita fatality rate was high at 1 “racing or training” death per 40 starts. Now, remember that the Santa Anita death rate was 1 “racing or training” death per 180 starts (near the normal expectation of 188) during the meet. Hollendorfer’s fatality rate was over 4 times higher than the average. During the same time frame, his fatality rate at Golden Gate was 1 “racing or training” death per 110 starts, bringing his California average fatality rate to 1 death per 63 starts.
(FYI, a good analyst could create “suspension control metrics” related to fatalities, and I find it ridiculous that these do not exist and were not put in place for all trainers after the suspension.)
5. Sloppy statistical handling in American Racing demonstrates an uncaring lack of control. The national Equine Injury Database (EID) counts “only” racing fatalities within 72 hours of a race. The data is not audited and self-reported by racetrack. Many tracks do not report. Many racetracks that do report do not allow their EID results to be published. Each state’s racing commission controls and publishes fatality data differently. Fatality control metrics per trainer do not exist. Training fatalities are not counted in the EID, even though they would increase the death count by 50% to 250% in some years at some racetracks. Yep, at racetracks like Santa Anita you can take what they report to the EID and almost always double those deaths every year to get near the total fatality figure.
Personally, I can’t believe anyone with a shred of quality understanding would have designed the EID. Not only is it devoid of quality control but the core metric of fatalities per 1000 starts, is obtuse and means nothing to the average consumer. At least deaths per start is relatable. For example, knowing a trainer is responsible for an equine death per 40 starts, or a racetrack is responsible for a death every 180 starts (which is every 2 to 3 racing days), is meaningful.
6. There is no transitional plan to improve the equine safety system in America. A national oversight structure for American racing does not exist. The result of this foolish flaw is that any improvement, or the implementation of “best known” safety methods in the American Racing Safety System, is inconsistent.
There are best known safety methods, racing surfaces, inspection protocols and medication protocols. Today New York has a “racing” fatality rate that’s nearly half of the Santa Anita and Churchill Downs rate. New York came close to cutting their “racing” fatalities in half after a 2012 100-page report and analysis conducted resulted in improvements. Data in Europe, and even America, prove that synthetic surfaces will cut dirt racing fatalities dramatically (from 50% to 125%). Some racetracks conduct pre-race veterinary inspections. Europe’s procedures and methods result in approximately half the fatalities American racing suffers from.
Like I said earlier, the data leads to truth. My truths in this blog come from gathering data elements residing in state racing commission reports, the EID, verified news reports, Equibase and other public sources. The truths are as accurate as the underlying data.
The media and some consumer groups were entirely unfair in their coverage of racing fatalities. American Racing equine fatalities have not shockingly gone up but, in fact, have gone down. However, the new bright light of equine safety accountability has shown that the American Racing safety system is woefully less effective than is could and should be. We endanger horses, which also endangers riders, beyond all scientific reason. Best known methods, and proven models of safety, exist not only in Europe but also in pockets of North America. Unfortunately, this leads to one more conclusion.
American Racing powers are disingenuous. Regardless of their consumer patronizing comments or baby step safety changes, American Racing’s deluded principles of profitability generally trump the implementation of top tier safety measures. If they didn’t, a quality controlled national safety transition plan would exist, and every American racetrack would have a plan to replace their dirt tracks with Tapeta!
Consumer groups, the media, American racing executives and horse association board members have all been wrong in different ways, regarding equine safety. I now can only encourage all parties to understand that facts do not cease to exist simply because they are ignored.
I hope American Racing executives begin to understand that our industry demise was caused by ignoring consumer desires. We will never reverse this demise by continuing safety practices which consumers find distasteful. A comprehensive multi-year equine safety transition plan is a place to start.
This year the yearling auctions readers of this blog seem to care about, are all together on the calendar.
Iowa is having their sale September 5th, Minnesota's is September 8th, Keeneland's sale begins September 9th and the Canadian Yearling sales for Divisions are August 26th and September 10th. Those buyers interested in gobbling up some state or Canadian Bred yearlings may have to make some choices about where they want to go.
With questions starting to ramp up, as they do every year, new owners often look for educational resources. Good ones are very hard to find. State Associations typically offer simplistic or propaganda laden materials in this regard. That's why I developed new owner educational information a few years ago and put it on our "Owner Education" page on this website. It has been called by many the best and most specific educational information available, and here's the direct link to the page: "Owner Education"
Best of luck to friends interested in the auctions this year, and I hope to see you at those I will be attending.
Dave Astar is a race horse owner, stallion owner, breeder, 40 year business executive, and 50 year handicapper.