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.
Though we have moved to Kentucky I continue to get many questions from Minnesota folks about racing and breeding. Last year, I answered most questions with Facebook posts and blogged less since we were minimizing our Minnesota racing footprint in anticipation of moving to our new farm here in Kentucky.
With that said, we recently refreshed most of our Astar Thoroughbred website, which contains many of our published articles that still answer current questions. A link to the website home page follows this note. Also, since the majority of questions come from those looking to either move into racehorse ownership or expand beyond their multiple owner groups, I think you will find the New Owner Education page and articles most helpful.
If anyone has specific or private questions, feel free to message me on Facebook and if you want frequent racing updates just like the Astar Thoroughbreds Facebook Page so posts hit your Facebook news feed.
Good Luck and Good Racing my Friends.
Astar Thoroughbreds Website Home Page
Today a local political friend and horseman took exception with my post yesterday explaining why I and others are leaving Minnesota Thoroughbred breeding to breed elsewhere. In simple terms, he told me my data conclusions were wrong.
Since challenged, here is the exact core data which illustrates how poor the true Thoroughbred breeding results in Minnesota have been, and how they are dramatically worse than other racing and breeding states. Again, these are results, not silly irrelevant actions or falsely portrayed propaganda.
He, and many others, should possibly try to understand that people have abandoned Minnesota Thoroughbred breeding at a rate faster than any other racing state in the union because the Minnesota "economic" breeding elements have combined to nearly destroy this important element of our agricultural economy through inaction, or poor action!
It's often a mistake to tell a 65 year old retired guy with time on his hands, who spent his life mastering data analysis, spreadsheets, data bases and Microsoft Office, that his data is wrong. Just sayin.
With a foot of snow and 4 foot high drifts in our pastures, it seems strange that folks have asked me for a 2018 racing season update .............. right? Nevertheless, here you go.
We are down to 2 Minnesota Breds for the 2018 Minnesota racing season. AJ's Angel (Astar Thoroughbreds Stable) and Twin Cities Magic (Astar Lindquist Stables) are training well at Hawthorne as top tier trainer Gary Scherer has worked them progressively longer at 3 furlongs, 4 furlongs and 5 furlongs. Gary will work them 6 furlongs this week and then blow them out with a harder 3 furlong work the week after that.
Gary works them slowly early, though their times have been in the top half of horses working on those days and distances, to prep them. We also know, as do most people, that the Minnesota track is no place to prep horses unless you have no choice. Not only is the weather poor early in the season but the aches and pain suffered at the hard and fast track are not acceptable. In addition, according to the MRC 2017 Vet report, equine fatalities and injuries doubled last year.
After over a decade of pretty heavy Minnesota involvement and attending most race days at our season table, we have cut our ties and declined to renew our table and memberships. We once ran upwards of 50 starts and 10 horses in Minnesota each year, and we are thankful Gary continues to train for our much smaller stables considering the fact that we decided to drastically reduce our "Minnesota" racing stable footprint.
I pray Minnesota folks develop the wisdom and honesty to distinguish occasional action and propaganda from results. Results are often hidden or rarely mentioned. Humorously ignored in 2017 reports and minutes from most Minnesota horse organizations was the fact that only 76 mares were actually bred in Minnesota in 2017, which was even lower than the 80 I estimated many months ago on the illustrated chart. That number of mares bred was the lowest number, by far, in over the last two decades and reflected a shocking 42% decline from 2016. Foaling also declined with only 218 foals reported in 2016, the most recent Jockey Club year in the Minnesota state fact book, which was the lowest number in the last 4 reported years and a 12% year over year decline! Oh, and the fact that equine fatalities and injuries doubled in 2017 seems to have also been omitted from, "pat themselves on the back", horse organizational reports and minutes.
In closing, we also bred two stakes winning mares to Mr. Z. and Bayern in Kentucky this year, and plan to have a winter farm near Louisville before next winter, so we can avoid next year's Minnesota blizzards. Haha.
For friends and family who have wondered, with only 2 legacy MN bred race horses at Hawthorne to prep for the 2018 racing season, our racing year may be less eventful than in the past. With that said, we are planning to migrate Astar Thoroughbreds South and will be looking at around 20 farms and properties between Louisville and Lexington Kentucky in the near future.
We lived in Louisville many years ago. We loved our time there, not just because we were at the Derby every year, but also because we never had to shovel snow. Even though folks down there stocked up on bread and milk every time snow was in the forecast, it almost always melted in a day or two when it did occasionally fall. Subsequently, a winter home in Kentucky was always a consideration.
We also loved the tradition and beauty of the bluegrass horse country. This region truly represents the major leagues of the horse industry with smart, kind and highly professional people almost everywhere you turn. Now that we are only breeding stakes winning mares to top sires at historic Kentucky breeding farms, proximity not only makes emotional sense with family in Louisville, but logical sense.
We will be selling our home in Woodbury in the near future and will likely put our horse farm in Hastings on the market later this year. We will also look for a small summer home up here to be with our Northern kids and grandkids for that part of the year.
After drastically reducing our racing and breeding industry footprint in Minnesota, I was asked why. Simply put, the most recent year on public record indicates that Minnesota breeding and racing “owner” results were the worst in the last 4 years recorded years.
In the most recent recorded year, Minnesota experienced the lowest available purse total, the lowest average Minnesota bred horse earnings, the lowest available purse earnings per race, the lowest number of state standing stallions (breeding), the lowest number of mares bred (breeding), the lowest state foaled numbers AND the highest veterinary reported equine injury and fatality rate, in the last four recorded years. (Public sources available to anyone: 2018 Jockey Club State Fact Book and 2017 MN Veterinary Report.)
Will things be better in Minnesota considering recently announced purse and race changes? The answer is yes, but to those who allowed Minnesota to shrink to the extent that the only way to look is up, you have proven to many that other environments where owners are better represented and not taken advantage of are more much deserving of their time and investment.
Sorry to say that meaningful facts, not selected propaganda, will always eventually win out and affect behavior.
Dave Astar is a race horse owner, stallion owner, breeder, 40 year business executive, and 50 year handicapper.