While on a recent leisure trip to Ocean City, Maryland, I visited nearby Ocean Downs harness track in Berlin, a city that was once home to the renowned Thoroughbred breeding farm Glen Riddle, owned by industrialist Samuel D. Riddle (1861-1951). Today, the farm is the site of a housing development and Glen Riddle Golf Course, which consists of two 18-hole courses, a public course named for Man O’ War and a private course named for War Admiral, Samuel Riddle’s famous racehorses.

The past performances in a pacing race at Ocean Downs were eye-catching. The number of lifetime starts for the eight fillies and mares were as follows: 73, 18, 105, 294, 200, 135, 99, and 157. These numbers demonstrate durability and longevity on the racetrack and, additionally, every one of the eight entries are still turning in times below two-minute miles on a half-mile racetrack.

The average number of starts per year for a North American Standardbred is about 17 times, or every 21.5 days, compared to 6.2 starts and 58.9 days for Thoroughbreds. Approximately three weeks vs. two months between races.

In the 2019 Kentucky Derby the average number of starts for the twenty 3-year-olds was 5 with a range of 4 to 8. By contrast, in last Saturday’s Hambletonian for 3-year-old trotters, the average number of starts for the sixteen entries in the two elimination heats was 13.4 with a range of 8 to 21. Since the Kentucky Derby was run three months earlier than the Hambletonian, a slight adjustment would have to be made for the time disparity, but even so the trotters still had well over twice the number of starts as the Thoroughbreds.

Significantly, unlike the Kentucky Derby, Preakness, and Belmont, the Hambletonian prohibited Lasix.

Due to the spate of horse fatalities at Santa Anita in late 2018 and into 2019, horse racing has come under intense public scrutiny and withering criticism. Unfortunately for harness racing, it is included under the generic label “horse racing” even though it does not have the same fragility issues as flat racing.

Because the average number of fatalities per 1,000 starts are recorded and made public for flat racing in North America but not for harness racing, it is not possible to directly demonstrate that the average number of fatalities per 1,000 starts for harness racing is a small fraction of the average number of fatalities per 1,000 starts for flat racing. However, the number of starts per year for Standardbreds vs. Thoroughbreds–and the average age of trotters and pacers in races vs. Thoroughbreds in races–suggest that the Standardbred fatality rate is much lower.

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