CALUMET FARM AND THE KENTUCKY DERBY

No racehorse enterprise has dominated the Kentucky Derby like Calumet Farm in its heyday. Its record of owning eight winners of the race and breeding a ninth is unlikely to ever be approached.  In the 1930s, ’40s, and ’50s, Calumet was the racing equivalent of the New York Yankees of that era.

William Monroe Wright, who made his fortune with Calumet Baking Powder, started Calumet Farm in 1924, breeding and racing Standardbreds.  When he died in 1932, his son Warren Wright Sr. inherited the farm and switched from Standardbreds to Thoroughbreds…and the devil’s red and blue silks that would become so famous appeared for the first time.

In 1939, Warren Wright fortuitously hired Ben A. Jones as his head trainer with Jimmy Jones assisting his father.

Following are the eight Kentucky Derby winners bred and owned by Calumet Farm

1941 Whirlaway
1944 Pensive
1948 Citation
1949 Ponder
1952 Hill Gail
1957 Iron Liege
1958 Tim Tam
1968 Forward Pass

In addition to these eight, Calumet bred 1991 Derby winner Strike the God.  1968 winner Forward Pass, the only colt of the eight not trained by Ben or Jimmy Jones, finished second in the Derby but was elevated to first place when Dancer’s Image was disqualified over a medication violation.  (Henry Forrest trained Forward Pass.)

Lucille Wright Markey owned Calumet Farm after Warren Wright Sr. passed away until her own death in 1982.  The closest Calumet came to winning another Kentucky Derby was with Alydar in 1978, who finished second in all three Triple Crown races to Affirmed.

After his racing career, Alydar went to stud at Calumet and died under suspicious circumstances in an alleged stall accident in late 1990.  This incident and the mismanagement, fraud, and subsequent downfall and sale of Calumet Farm became the subject of Ann Hagedorn Auerbach’s book Wild Ride.

Copyright © 2020 Horse Racing Business

WILLIAM R. TRAVERS

The Travers Stake is widely known as “the Midsummer Derby” and sometimes as “the fourth leg of the Triple Crown.”  Only Whirlaway in 1941 has managed to win the Triple Crown and also win the Travers.  The only colt with a chance to replicate this difficult feat in 2020 is Belmont winner Tiz the Law, who is expected to run in the Travers.

The Travers Stakes is named for William R. Travers (1819-1887), the co-founder and first president of the Saratoga Racing Association, which opened the Saratoga Race Course in 1863.  He also was an investor in the Sheepshead Bay Racetrack on Coney Island.

Travers graduated from Columbia College in 1838 and proceeded to earn an immense fortune on Wall Street.  In addition to his horse racing interests, Travers was a yachtsman and the president of the New York Athletic Club.  The summer home of the NYAC is on Travers Island on Long Island Sound in New Rochelle, New York.

When Travers died, The New York Times wrote that he “may have been the most popular man in New York,” as he was a man of wit, self-deprecating manner, and charm.  Most notably, he was a stutterer and made light of it. 

A 2010 story on Saratoga.com, titled “The Wit of William R. Travers,” related anecdotes that demonstrated Travers’ self-deprecating humor.  One went like this:  While walking on a street in New York City, Travers happened upon an old acquaintance from Baltimore and the two conversed.

“’Why, Bill, you stutter worse now than when you were in Baltimore,’ his friend said.
‘H-h-have to,’ answered Mr. Travers.  ‘B-b-bigger city.’”

The namesake for the Travers Stakes was evidently a Wall Street tycoon with a very human persona and a sense of humor.

Copyright 2020 Horse Racing Business

ONLINE SPORTS BETTING AND ESPORTS

Covid-19 pandemic shelter-in-place devastated conventional gambling, as brick-and-mortar casino locations closed and the most popular sports to bet on were suspended.  However, so-called igaming–which includes online casino, poker, horse racing, and esports–flourished.

Whether esports—video gaming competitions—are really sports is a matter of opinion.  What is not debatable is the huge growth in esports betting during the pandemic.

According to the UK Gambling Commission, with few real sports to bet on in the UK during the pandemic, handle plummeted.  By contrast, from March 2019 through March 2020, wagering on esports grew by 2992%.  In March 2020, the UK pound equivalent of $1,918,514 was bet on esports compared to a negligible $63,493 in March 2019.  By May 2020, handle soared to $5,835,764; while this is not a lot of dollars for the gambling industry, it is an impressive boost.  (Online poker handle was also up, by 50%.)  It remains to be seen, however, whether the popularity of esports holds up once real sports return and can be bet on.

In the United States, between March 2019 and April 2020, betting on real contests (the NCAA Men’s Basketball Tournament, NBA, NHL, etc.) declined by 62%, as most real sports were suspended or cancelled by late March 2020.  Meanwhile, investors were bullish on companies like DraftKings that offer cash-prize contests on fantasy sports and sports wagering for residents of Indiana, New Hampshire, New Jersey, Pennsylvania, and West Virginia.  After merging with Diamond Eagle and SBTech, DraftKings went public on NASDAQ in April 2020 at $19.35 per share.  The stock has since nearly doubled.  IPOs for similar companies are in the works.

As the number of states legalizing online sports books increases, companies like DraftKings are well positioned to quickly capitalize on the opportunity.  Similarly, prominent companies with casinos, racetracks, and online betting on horse racing have already added sports betting and are positioned to grow as more states legalize online sports wagering. Penn National Gaming is one such company, and has seen its stock increase by some 600% since it hit a low of $4.52 on March 18, 2020, when the stock market bottomed out.

When Caesars Entertainment Corp recently merged with Eldorado Resorts Inc., the CEO of the combined company said that it is considering spinning off its sports-betting and online gambling operation to shareholders to get more value out of a high-growth business.

The unanswered question for horse racing is to what extent online sports betting and exports betting will cannibalize or boost online horse-race handle.

Copyright © 2020 Horse Racing Business