Follow the money.  That adage does not always prove true in discerning outcomes but it is often a reliable guide of things to come.  For instance, betting sites are usually a more accurate predictor of who is going to win an election than expert forecasts and public opinion polls.  Bettors have “skin in the game” and therefore more closely research and weigh possible results. 

Follow the money is my preferred context for evaluating the possible effects on the American horse racing enterprise of yesterday’s expose by Joe Drape in the New York Times.  In capsule, Triple Crown winner Justify turned up positive for the performance-enhancing drug scopolamine after his win in the Santa Anita Derby.  Tests by two different laboratories came back positive.  Moreover, the California Horse Racing Board and Justify’s trainer Bob Baffert may have covered up the violation.  (The Racing Board attributed the presence of scopolamine to jimson weed, which could have been in straw used for stall bedding, and Mr. Baffert professes his innocence.)

The New York Times story understandably provoked plenty of comments from readers of newspapers and online reports.  PETA, as expected, was quick to condemn. The majority of the feedback was harsh and accusatory as to where the blame lies.  And in some cases, the comments were along the lines of “the world as we know it is coming to an end.”

Meanwhile, down in the Bluegrass of Kentucky, in Lexington, the September sale of yearlings is in full swing.  On the very same day that the New York Times story was published, a filly sold for the highest price ever, $8.2 million.  This followed a colt going for $4.2 million the day before.  In fact, the market is so buoyant that a $1 million sale is hardly worthy of mentioning.

If one follows the money, Mr. Drape’s report does not seem to phase deep-pocketed investors and speculators in Thoroughbred horses.  If the people buying horses at Keeneland are worried about the future of horse racing, their bidding behavior sure doesn’t show it.

So, there is a parallel universe of sorts and time will tell who is correct.  The view here is that while negative publicity is detrimental, the public has become inured by almost daily scandalous news.  In this era of social media, cable TV, talk radio and scandals de jour, a failed drug test of a racehorse will be of little or no interest or concern to the vast majority of people…or to bettors. Then too, polls show that public trust in mainstream media is at an all-time low.

The social psychology phenomenon known as the “spotlight effect” is that we tend to believe that other people are paying more attention to us than they are. Folks in the niche sport of horse racing are no exception.

Mr. Drape’s story would ordinarily have received more attention than it did.  But a bombshell incident involving the National Football League dominated the day and crowded out other news. Media reports and radio/TV shows were consumed with the civil-suit filing against an already high-profile and controversial New England Patriot player.  His former personal trainer said he sexually assaulted her.

Most people with a financial stake in horse racing, or an ardent fan’s interest, want the sport/business to adopt a uniform medication policy with a strict enforcement mechanism.  The folks buying yearlings at Keeneland s seem to be betting on that outcome, or that it does not matter.

Copyright © 2019 Horse Racing Business

On September 18, Horse Racing Business will publish a fact-based analysis of the California Horse Racing Board’s actions after Justify tested positive for scopolamine in the Santa Anita Derby.