A couple weeks ago I mentioned the possibility of statistical sampling to get an early view on the pari-mutuel revenue impact associated with the terrible press Thoroughbred racing has been getting in America. Proper sampling techniques provide trend insight into issues long before many people even know issues exist. As a result, I conducted a study on my own, utilizing publicly available pari-mutuel data.
I compared available data (certain racetracks do not publish data) by racetrack and exactly compared daily pari-mutuel revenues from this year to last year making sure only same days were utilized. In other words, the second Saturday in May this year was May 11th. The second Saturday in May last year was May 12th. These two comparable days were utilized, as were all the others studied. For example at Pimlico, where the Preakness will be run this coming Saturday, a $1.327M total handle was secured last Sunday. A $1.891M total handle was taken in on the same comparable Sunday last year. (A 30% drop off on that particular day.)
In aggregate, utilizing comparative days at the same racetracks as indicated, I am finding what I expected. There has been a steep decline in pari-mutuel revenue over the last month and this decline seems to have been exacerbated by the disqualification of Maximum Security in the Derby. I have found a 12.2% decline in total revenues where it can be comparatively measured!
Trouble has been brewing in racing for years and that's why inflation adjusted pari-mutuel revenue is only 60% (about half) of what it was just 15 years ago, but these double digit one year declines have never been seen before. Maybe this is temporary but I wouldn't bet on it.
In closing, facts are stubborn things but apparently not as stubborn as the "Ancients" who control American Racing and refuse to re-engineer their product to conform to consumer desires!
It's always an exciting day when a 2 year old is doing everything right and our breaking/prepping trainer says he is ready to go to our racing trainer, Gary Scherer. Today our last Minnesota Bred horse, (actually bred in Kentucky at Winstar to Sidney's Candy but foaled out of BJ's Angel in Minnesota at The Osborne Farm), ships up to Canterbury Park in Minnesota.
We are going to run him in Minnesota since being foaled counts as being bred in Minnesota and he gets to run against just Minnesota horses in restricted company for reasonable purses. For example, he gets to run against just Minnesota breds for near $36,000 in MSW races. If he ran at say Belterra, the MSW purse is only $18,000 and he has to beat all state's horses. He could run for more, like $100,000 in MSW races at Churchill or in Arkansas or New York for example but, those are some of the best 2 year olds in the country.
Thanks to Kevin Fletcher in Columbia, KY for prepping him so well, and Alan Bassett for getting him up to Canterbury. Now we can only wait and hope our last Minnesota bred, "Caramel Angel", develops well at the track.
It's that time of the year again when Derby questions come flooding in and some folks have asked me what I mean when I mention fractional time handicapping.
I've had some pretty fair luck handicapping the Derby over the last few years and always recommend folks consider fractional times whenever they are trying to handicap races where horses have not gone the distance. Of course, the Derby is exactly one of those races since none of the three year-olds have ever gone a mile and quarter (the Derby distance).
The illustrated and busy graph contains a solid line representing the fractional speed each of the illustrated Derby contenders ran in their last race. The dotted lines are the mathematical logarithmic trend lines for each horse, with the farthest point on the right representing their estimated last furlong speed in the Derby. I consider this to be the most important unknown when handicapping the Derby.
The three horses my math tells me to pay attention to are Maximum Security, Code of Honor and Cutting Humor. For example, Maximum Security averaged 12.1 seconds per furlong in the first 6 furlongs in his last race, the Florida Derby. He actually averaged slightly less than that for his last 3 furlongs in that race! That fractional pattern produces an expectation that he will get the Derby distance without losing much of his speed.
Of course, pace, weather post position and other factors that have not yet been determined will matter in the final handicapping process but in a year where there is no clear cut Triple Crown contender in my opinion, and the odds will be fairly high on many horses that have a chance, the fractions tell me that certain horses should get attention, while others should be dropped from my process.
I hope this helps explain fractional time handicapping, and with Omaha Beach and Roadster likely going the favorites at 7/2 or so, my top 3 are 6/1, 18/1 and 60/1, a few exotics seem to be in order this year.
My recent blogs and posts regarding racing safety and surfaces, have drawn enough interest to have some of the racing reporters who do not exist as shills for the industry, asking tougher questions. You see, American racing has said forever that safety is paramount while ignoring clear cut actions that can reduce equine fatalities. This shell game just isn't going to cut it anymore with consumers of the sporting/entertainment product. It's gratifying to see data, rather than short sighted profit oriented opinions, winning the day.
I have also been hit with many questions. For example, there are folks who think the racing surface debate is new. It is not! In fact American racing has possessed absolutely clear cut data regarding the safety of synthetics for many years.
After a brief search, since the California Santa Anita equine deaths have caused the current uproar, I thought my readers would find the DECADE OLD linked article very interesting! Here's the link.
I was asked about my recent blog wherein I said American racing has not been honest about how to save equine lives because they have continued to run races on dirt racetracks rather than transitioning to synthetic material. To show how obvious this conclusion is, the illustrated graph reflects the exact year by year percentage difference, and higher death rate, experienced on dirt versus synthetics. Yes, more than 1500 Thoroughbred lives could have been saved over the last decade had we only run on turf or synthetics.
How long will American racing stick their heads in the dirt (Pun Intended), while pretending that Thoroughbred and rider safety is paramount? When is enough enough?
After publishing yesterday's blog, which strongly suggested all American dirt racing needs to be replaced with synthetic surface racing, the 23rd Santa Anita racing season fatality occurred. The following CBS link contains the video of the accident and you will notice the fall occurred when the horse crossed into the main dirt track (that's how the turf course is set up at Santa Anita).
It's hard to watch for horse lovers but unfortunately just more of the same in American racing. Notice near the end of the video when the fan they interviewed says his family left the track and they just don't want to be a part of it.
American racing should never wonder why consumers continue to abandon their entertainment product when drug use, medication, racing surfaces and several other factors are distasteful to consumers. Inflation adjusted American racing industry pari-mutuel revenue has dropped 50% over the last two decades, and still the industry struggles to take baby steps toward correction.
Like I said weeks ago, "Enough is Enough".
CBS Santa Anita Video
I have found the recent wringing of hands in American horse racing over the spate of deaths at Santa Anita both disappointing and dishonest. Since I have been a horse owner and breeder for many years you may wonder why I feel there is dishonesty in our sport. Simply, the data tells me a much different story than American racing powers do.
I could easily refer to other countries to reach my disappointing and dishonest data-based conclusion. Afterall, other countries have data which seems to indicate that their racing fatalities are one third to one half those of the American racing industry. They claim their rules which ban race day medication, include extensive out of competition testing, longer racing distances, and their racing surfaces, are more protective of both horse and rider. However, all I have to do is look at our own American racing data to be disappointed.
American racing powers often point to the Equine Injury Database (EID) to illustrate how concerned they are about fatalities. Most of the American racetracks “self-report racing related” fatalities to the database. I say self-report because I have never heard about quality-controlled auditing procedures to verify the reported data, and I know for a fact the “racing related” fatalities are only a portion of the fatalities which occur at the racetracks while horses are stabled on the track’s premises. With that said however, the EID has been positively referred to by American racing for the last few years.
From 2015 through 2017 the data indicated a decline in American equine race related fatalities. Data analysts knew this data was simply random or common cause variation but now racing has embarrassingly been skewered on their own weapon of defense. The 2018 EID numbers indicate that the fatality rates were the highest in the last four years. Of course, this 2018 data also is simply common cause variation but such is life when the media has a headline and the public understands little about statistical science.
Unfortunately, a deeper look into the EID data clearly indicates how lackadaisical American racing has been about addressing fatalities. You see, the data has credibly indicated for years that fatalities could be reduced by racing on both turf and synthetic surfaces. Nevertheless, we continue to run over 7 of every 10 races on dangerous dirt surfaces. Dirt racing produces 64% more equine racing deaths than synthetic surfaces do, and 34% more than turf racing does! These percentages are not mathematical unknowns requiring complex analytical solutions to discover, they are simple knowns!
Again, utilizing the EID data, any first-year college statistical student could calculate that 1,509 fewer equine deaths would have occurred over the last decade if we only raced on turf or synthetic surfaces! If American racing really cared about equine fatalities, one would reasonably assume we set “safety goals” years ago associated with ending dirt racing, which is how they predominantly race in Europe.
In 2013, 26.7% of our American races were run on the “much safer” turf or synthetic surfaces. Five years later in 2018, only 27.9% of our races are being run on turf and synthetic surfaces. This means that there has been essentially no progress for our American “safety seeking” racing industry. Reviewing the 2018 EID data, 138 fewer horses would have died if all races had been run on turf and synthetic surfaces!
Now, I understand the cost arguments about changing out dirt for synthetic material. Both racetracks and trainers would claim cost and time complexity issues. Breeders would claim certain pedigrees only lend themselves to running on “dangerous” dirt. Racing groups would likely bring in “expert” shills to create illusions that the surface fatality data is not clear. Nevertheless, if nothing trumps safety in American racing and we claim that equine safety is “paramount”, why isn’t American racing presenting a detailed transition plan to phase out all dirt surface racing?
Another consideration, based upon the EID data, is racing distance. Fatality rates when horses run over a mile in route races are 25% lower than they are for mile or under races. Here again American racing has failed to address this issue, apparent in our own data, and in fact regressed. In 2018 only 16.6% of our races were run at more than a mile. Five years ago, in 2013, 19.2% of our races were run over a mile. If just half of the 2018 races were run over a mile 47 fewer horses would have died.
So, using simple statistical conclusions from our own American racing data why haven’t we attempted to come into line with obvious best-known safety protocols? Why haven’t we now set a goal requiring all American races to be run on synthetic or turf surfaces, and over 50% of our races to be run over a mile? Had we not been complacent in 2014, and set these same standards be met by 2018, 185 fewer horses would have died racing last year. In addition, the 2018 EID 1.68 fatalities per 1000 number would have been 1.05, far and away the lowest number ever in American racing history!
Of course, my presumption is that American racing, including racetrack executives, racing commissions, trainers and horse people associations are now more intelligent and honest about safety than they were five years ago. I also presume the convoluted American racing powers are willing to change and adopt “best known methods” for safety, and will also implement obvious safety medication protocols.
Racing surface and distance “safety” data is imminently clear and has absolutely nothing to do with opinion. The truth is out there, and has been for years, so how about we cut the crap and honestly address the obvious. Let’s take action on what we do know about safety in American racing rather than debating the intricacies of what we do not know?
After a lifetime of loving the sport of horse racing, and running corporate quality control operations for over 40 years, I hate to say it but Thoroughbred racing is getting the black eye it deserves. Racing has been operationally mishandling issue after issue for several decades. The uproar surrounding the recent rash of horse fatalities at Santa Anita is just more of the same.
There was a time when I thought I could be part of the sport’s solution. I joined local Thoroughbred boards and councils, presented to our state’s Racing Commission, and met with racing executives. I spent years preparing run charts, quality control limit graphs, scatter diagrams, comparative analysis charts, correlative statistics and trended predictions until I realized that the same quality control techniques commonly used to “assure quality” in most professional industries were only welcome in the Thoroughbred business when they were complimentary to the political hacks who controlled Thoroughbred organizations.
Those same political hacks, to this day, do not realize that their action and inaction has made them the authors of a horrible industry demise. In fact, the Thoroughbred foal population in the United States is half of what it was just 28 years ago, parimutuel revenue (when properly indexed for inflation) is half of what is was just 15 years ago, and racing is now so massively subsidized by other gaming revenue in most states that the sport will never stand on its own again!
With that in mind, here are just a few recent headlines that have me saying, “Enough is Enough”:
Battle of Midway Euthanized After Training Breakdown (2/23/19)
Another Horse Dies During Training at Santa Anita Park (2/25/19)
Expert from Kentucky to examine Santa Anita track after horse deaths (2/26/19)
Santa Anita Racetrack closes for three days in wake of 19 horse deaths (2/26/19)
Santa Anita track deemed OK for racing after rash of horse deaths amid rainy conditions (2/28/19)
Santa Anita Park: Racing Suspended Indefinitely after 21st Horse Death (3/6/19)
21 Horse Deaths Haunt Santa Anita Racetrack While Problem Remains Unclear (3/9/19)
Santa Anita Resumes Limited Training Amid Probe of Horse Deaths (3/13/19)
22nd Horse Dies at Santa Anita Park after track declared safe (3/14/19)
Santa Anita Bans Drugs and Whips after Spate of Horse Deaths (3/14/19)
That last headline is a biggie because Santa Anita is banning same day medication, limiting whips, expanding out of competition testing and doing a few other things that they believe will improve quality and safety. Other racetracks in the United States may follow suit but who knows? I am thankful that one racetrack is going to try and impart higher quality into the sport, but I doubt that those changes have much to do with the Santa Anita fatality incidents. So, here’s what I think a properly trained quality operator would do, and also a perfect illustration of why a nationwide authority should control racing, rather than politically motivated and often unqualified state by state regulators.
First, every key process indicator in professional business operations should have quality control limits. Operators must know, not guess, when they have a problem. You will NEVER create quality in your company or industry until you find a way to establish upper and lower quality control limits for key quality indicators, such as equine fatalities per workout, per race, by surface, by distance, etc. You must always know beyond a shadow of a doubt, WHEN you have a problem and are outside the statistical control limits, particularly when equine and human safety is paramount!
Second, proper root cause problem solving is based upon inspection, testing and comparative analysis. Specific to the current Santa Anita situation, they should have an independent engineering firm drill at least 5 bore holes each 3 to 4 feet apart coming out from the rail. These should be drilled at every racing pole deep enough to inspect the subsurface and drainage system. This would allow them to the scientifically examine the elements and mixture (sand, silt, gravel, etc.) of each layer, for both the dirt and turf racing surfaces. Then the same independent firm should be sent to the 3 consistently best racetracks in the United States related to fatality rate, and perform the exact same bore hole test analysis. Then all “comparative” data should be made public, (quality organizations are fully transparent with their consumers) to either declare the surfaces safe, or to mitigate the issues by reworking the entire track to replicate the “best known” racing surface safety practices.
So for those of you that have asked, this is what I would do, and I would take no prisoners in the process! People would either get on board, learn about quality and embrace a full-fledged quality process, or find another job. Racing has no time to waste!
I will always love horses, and Thoroughbred racing was is my bones from the first day my dad decided to sneak me into a racetrack in Chicago. However, my passion for the sport has been slowly obliterated by the dunderheads who continue to make all the wrong moves to stabilize the once great sport of Thoroughbred racing. Their lack of understanding related to consumers, quality control and variation is simply mind numbing. I have reconciled myself to the fact that they may never learn that they are not part of any solution by attending meetings, discussing administrative minutia, acting as a racing shills, denying problems or ignoring them until they are forced to acknowledge their existence. In fact, many of these people have been part of the problem for far too long.
I hope racing supports the changes at Santa Anita nationwide, but I already know they will not. I also hope Santa Anita takes the steps required to assure quality and racing safety exists. Until then, enough is enough!
Such is life in the Thoroughbred business.
The Thoroughbred breeding season is once again upon us and folks are asking where to breed. Each state competes with other states for breeding, and each state tries to attract breeders in unique and different ways.
Some states advertise and focus on the actual act of breeding, providing incentives that attract mare owners to bring their mares to a state and breed those mares to state standing stallions. Others ignore the true breeding definition and only try to attract mare owners to “foal out” or birth their foals in their state. Of course, some states concentrate on both breeding related issues.
As a result of the highly divergent breeding program strategies, each state provides incentives in variable ways. Some offer substantial “guaranteed” percentage payments. Some require both true breeding and foaling in the state at varying intervals. Others guarantee several state bred restricted races per race day.
After reviewing the most recently available Jockey Club State Fact Books for every state that produced a minimum of 200 foals per year, I suggest the “where to breed or foal” question should be an economic one, with three guiding issues to explore:
1. What incentives exist for breeders? At the bottom of this article, you will find a public guide to state breeding programs published by the DRF. This is the best "comparative" guide I can find.
2. How much will my horse earn in state purses by racing in their restricted state bred racing program? Do the states have several guaranteed restricted races per day or per season? Is their season long enough, possibly at multiple in state tracks, to allow state bred horses to get several state bred restricted race starts? The average earnings per state bred starter were over $20,000 in KY, NY, PA, MA and OH. Additionally, they were between $15,000 and $20,000 in IL, IN, CA, IA and WV. All other states fall below the $15,000 figure.
3. How much can I sell my bred horse for? Both KY and NY exceeded $30,000 in mean average sale price based again on the most recent Jockey Club data. Only PA, WV, AR, and MA had mean average sale prices between $10,000 and $20,000, and only FL, WA and IN had a mean average between $7,500 and $10,000.
So, the answer to the “where to breed and foal” question depends on your agenda as a breeder. If you breed to race, the incentives and average earnings potential matter. If you breed to sell, the incentives and the mean average sale price matters, though sale price is substantially driven by earnings potential. I also think that even after incentives are earned by breeders, the minimum mean average earnings need to be over $15,000 for horse owners, and the minimum mean average sale price needs to be $7,500 …… just to approach break even economics.
Anyway, I hope this outline and the attachment will help guide breeders looking to select the best breeding and foaling economic environment available this upcoming breeding season. Best of luck to all.
For my handicapping friends. I was asked why I liked City of Lights over Accelerate in the Pegasus, so here you go.
Though many public handicappers were quick to point to the fact that City of Lights had never run in the mud, while Accelerate had already proven himself in the mud, the Bloodstock data I use indicated he would have no problem on an off track, and his pedigree for the off track was actually better than Accelerate's.
Secondly, after long “race” layoffs, workout patterns are a key and both horses showed what I wanted to see. They dominated their workout groups every week for the prior month or so. Lastly, City of Lights had a somewhat better trend based upon speed ratings with his Breeders Cup Mile being his best in his career
City of Lights was an easy, non-favorite, winner.
In another race Saturday, I found very similar patterns related to the layoffs. Amy’s Challenge ran in an Oaklawn stakes race. I was lucky I handicapped the race only because the horse is trained by Mac Robertson, who we know from Minnesota racing.
Amy was an even easier bet going off at 7/2 because she was the only horse with the outstanding workout pattern running the bullet three times against 180 horses over the prior month! Both she, and the big favorite, had run 2nd and 3rd in prior graded stakes races. Her pedigree also suggested she was slightly better at 6 furlongs than the big favorite, and she had run 7 furlongs or more in 4 of the last 5 races.
She crushed the field beating the second placed horse by about 6 lengths.
Anyway, handicapping good stakes horses after long layoffs requires entirely different techniques, which is a hard variation lesson to learn for many. I hope this old man experience helps those who were interested.
Dave Astar is a race horse owner, stallion owner, breeder, 40 year business executive, and 50 year handicapper.