A BREEDERS’ CUP AT SANTA ANITA IN 2019 WOULD BE A TERRIBLE BLUNDER

About a week ago, I saw a classified ad in the Blood-Horse magazine offering to re-sell a clubhouse box for the 2019 Breeders’ Cup at Santa Anita. This got me thinking how much trouble it would be to untangle business arrangements if the Breeders’ Cup board of directors were to move the event to another racetrack only four months out. Fans who have already bought tickets would be inconvenienced and contracts with many suppliers would be voided. What a complicated mess a move would create, I thought.

Then yesterday I heard that a 30th horse fatality had occurred at Santa Anita and a Hall of Fame trainer had been banned from all of The Stronach Group racetracks. Today, a friend who does not follow horse racing closely remarked to me about the carnage at one of America’s premier racetracks and he went on to say how public sentiment was surely turning against horse racing. Shortly afterwards, I got into my car to leave my friend’s house and a national radio network was broadcasting a report about the Santa Anita fatalities. It said calls were growing to shut down horse racing, not just at Santa Anita but nationwide.

Certainly, moving the event is no way to treat customers and vendors. However, staying at Santa Anita poses a risk of such magnitude that it overrides all other considerations. Should there be a fatality during a Breeders’ Cup race, recriminations will rightly be fast and furious in coming and horse racing will be dealt a powerful blow that it will take years, if ever, to recover from.

In terms of proportionality, the question of remaining at Santa Anita or going is lopsided. The decision is so obvious that one wonders “What is the Breeders’ Cup board of directors waiting on?”

Copyright © 2019 Horse Racing Business

HORSE RACING’S DILEMMA: AMERICAN SOCIETY VIEWS INJURIES TO HUMAN ATHLETES AND EQUINE ATHLETES DIFFERENTLY

In the first four games of the 2019 NBA finals, Golden State star Kevin Durant did not play due to a strained right calf. Once Golden State fell behind the Toronto Raptors three games to one, Durant was derided by some fans and media members for not playing when his team needed him to avoid elimination. Durant unwisely played in game 5 in the series and suffered a devastating ruptured right Achilles tendon that is difficult for an athlete to fully recover from in less than a year and perhaps never will. Then in game 6, Durant’s teammate Klay Thompson went down with a torn anterior cruciate ligament or ACL.

In the wake of the injury to Durant, there was some criticism of Golden State for playing him, but not much. When Thompson went down basically nothing was said other than it was unfortunate and that injuries are part of the game. There was no outcry about basketball being a brutal game or laments that drugs like the nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory Toradol are given to players in pain on gameday so they can perform.

Similarly, when horrific injuries have occurred during NFL games, such as spinal injuries to wide receiver Darryl Stingley and linebacker Ryan Shazier, there has been plenty of grief and sympathy expressed, but no widespread calls to ban football or accusations that drugs are to blame.

Contrast this “injuries are just part of the game” attitude to what happened after Eight Belles suffered an injury just past the finish line in the 2008 Kentucky Derby that required her to be euthanized (unlike human athletes, horses cannot be reasoned with to rest after surgeries to repair injuries). A cacophony of assertions immediately ensued about the cruelty of horse racing, along with unfounded allegations that the filly was drugged. Never mind that since the first Kentucky Derby in 1875 there had never before been a fatality in the race.

An objective observer would agree that there is a much different standard for how the public views injuries to human athletes and equine athletes. The usual explanation is that human beings can choose whether to enter a boxing ring, drive a racecar at high speeds, or risk brain damage playing football, whereas horses don’t have a choice and therefore horse sports for human entertainment are inhumane.

But there is more at work than this explanation and it has to do with the emotional affection Americans have for certain species of animals. For instance, most Americans would find it repugnant to read that the Humane Society International estimates that “30 million dogs across Asia, including stolen family pets, are still killed for human consumption every year.” Another example: while horse slaughter is banned in the United States, a reputable survey found that 65% of South Koreans are willing to eat horse meat. Conversely, beef is a staple in the United States but cattle are revered by Hindus in India.

Such vastly contrasting cross-cultural perspectives are partly attributable to what social psychologists call “motivated reasoning,” wherein people evaluate issues or arguments in a biased way to support a preferred conclusion. Likewise, proponents and opponents of horse racing see the issue of injuries and fatalities in an entirely different context. The former generally agree that “some” reforms are necessary in order to improve safety and the latter mostly want the sport abolished.

If horse racing is to have a viable future, the industry must unify behind changes that can greatly reduce horse fatalities, while at the same time present a cogent argument as to why some injuries and accidents are inevitable in sport or life.

Uncompromising adversaries of horse racing won’t be persuaded but the general public is the target audience. The problem is that too many insiders in racing are prisoners of their own motivated reasoning and don’t see the peril. Meanwhile, their sport is running out of time to take actions that will make sure there will never be another outrageous and largely preventable Santa Anita-like carnage.

Copyright © 2019 Horse Racing Business

SUMMARY OF WAGERING, ATTENDANCE, AND TV RATING METRICS FOR THE 2019 TRIPLE CROWN RACES

The 2019 Triple Crown races did about as expected on key performance metrics when it is taken into account that the Kentucky Derby winner, Country House, did not contest the Preakness or the Belmont, nor did the disqualified Kentucky Derby winner Maximum Security. Betting was robust for a year in which three different horses won the Triple Crown races.

Kentucky Derby

Handle: An all-time record of $250.9 million was bet on the Kentucky Derby card (an increase of 11% over 2018) and $165.5 million was wagered on the Kentucky Derby itself (plus 10% compared to 2018).

TV Ratings: The Derby had a 9.4 rating and 16.34 million viewers for the entire telecast, an 11% increase in ratings and a 10% increase in viewers over 2018. The race segment of the telecast attracted 18.0 million viewers and the post-race segment had 18.5 million viewers, owing to the drama over Maximum Security’s disqualification. By contrast, the final round of the 2019 Masters golf tournament, won by Tiger Woods, had 18.3 million viewers (however, the final round play was moved to earlier in the day to avoid rain).

Attendance: 150,729, down 4% from 2018.

Preakness Stakes

Handle: An all-time record of $97.5 million was wagered on the entire Preakness card (up 2.7% over the previous record), of which $54.5 million was bet on the Preakness Stakes.

TV Ratings: Compared to 51 NBC-aired Triple Crown telecasts, the 2019 Preakness recorded the second-lowest rating, with a rating of 3.4 and 5.41 million viewers. Nonetheless, the Preakness topped the final round of the PGA Championship, which had a rating of 3.3 and a TV audience of 5 million.

Attendance: 131,256, down 2.4% from 2018.

Belmont Stakes

Handle: Betting set a Belmont record for a non-Triple Crown year with all-sources handle for the 13-race card of $102.2 million. $53.2 million was wagered on the Belmont Stakes. In 2018, handle for the Belmont card was $138 million with the Triple Crown on the line.

TV Ratings: The rating of 3.6 was the best for an NBC sports event on Saturday, though there was not much competition in this regard with no finals games played in the NBA and NHL. In 2018, the Triple Crown telecast of Justify’s win drew a rating of 8.1.

Attendance: Paid attendance was 56,217, down from the 90,000 fans in 2018 (Belmont Park management now caps attendance at 90,000).

Copyright © 2019 Horse Racing Business