Safety of jockeys and horses has been the dominant theme of American racing in 2019.  A rash of breakdowns at Santa Anita, capped off with a fatal injury in the Breeders’ Cup Classic, rightfully put a harsh spotlight on the entire racing enterprise.

No one cause is responsible for fatalities, but hard data point to track surface as a major contributor.  The Jockey Club’s Equine Injury Database is quite revealing in this regard.

Among racetracks that provided statistics to the Equine Injury Database from 2009 through 2018, the horse fatality rate per thousand starts averaged, over the 10-year period, 1.97 on dirt and 1.47 on turf. 

Five North American racetracks have synthetic surfaces.  Arlington Park in Chicago is one of them, but the track does not make public its fatality statistics.  The other four tracks reported average fatalities per thousand starts from 2009 through 2018 as follows:

Golden Gates Field (Tapeta surface), 1.37
Presque Isle Downs (Tapeta surface), 0.95
Turfway Park (Polytrack surface), 1.2
Woodbine (Polytrack surface from 2009-2015), 1.02
Woodbine (Tapeta surface from 2016-2018), 0.965

Two inferences:  First, Synthetic surfaces reduce horse fatalities, thereby also reducing risk for jockeys.  Second, the Tapeta surface has slightly bested the Polytrack surface in terms of safety.

If American horse racing is to provide a more humane product, replacing dirt tracks with synthetic surfaces is the place to start.  Yet three high-profile racetracks, Del Mar, Keeneland, and Santa Anita, did the reverse: replacing synthetic surfaces with dirt tracks, in spite of the known elevated safety risks. They have done great damage to the industry in which they are leaders.  And prominent tracks like Churchill Downs, Saratoga, and Belmont Park are also at fault in keeping dirt surfaces.

Copyright © 2019 Horse Racing Business


The World Anti-Doping Agency (WADA) “was founded with the aim of bringing consistency to anti-doping policies and regulations within sport organizations and governments… across the world.”  Last week, WADA’s Compliance Review Committee (CRC) recommended that Russia be barred from global sports for four years as punishment for flagrantly violating WADA rules. 

If the WADA board follows the recommendation at its December meeting, Russia athletes will be banned from the 2020 Tokyo Olympics as well as from soccer’s World Cup and other sports.

This is the type of no-nonsense oversight that American horse racing needs if it is to continue as a viable sport.  A Horseracing Anti-Doping and Medication Control Authority (HADA) would have such power under the provisions of the proposed Horseracing Integrity Act, which has been introduced in both the House of Representatives and Senate.  HADA would create a set of uniform anti-doping rules and specify lists of allowed and prohibited substances, thereby replacing the existing hodgepodge of rules in 38 different racing jurisdictions.  The U. S. Anti-Doping Agency would hold six of 13 seats on the HADA board and would be in charge of enforcement.

I am a strong proponent of federalism, in which power is divided between the national government and state and local governments.  In the case of American horse racing, it is abundantly clear to an objective observer that state regulation of medication has been woefully inadequate. There is a pervasive public perception that drugging of racehorses is commonplace and even tolerated.  For this reason, HADA is needed to formulate policy and enforce it with the same degree of courage that WADA’s Compliance Review Committee showed when it decided that not even a world superpower can flout the rules of fair competition with impunity.

Such a straight-and-narrow approach could help steer American horse racing to a brighter future.

Copyright © 2019 Horse Racing Business


At a time when American horse racing is under intense public scrutiny, and the subject of criticism, putting into practice proven principles for doing business would be a major step in the right direction for the industry. Racetracks in particular have a lot of work to do to overcome an image tarnished badly by horse fatalities at high-profile Santa Anita.

Amazon’s 14 “leadership principles” offer such building blocks.

Jeff Bezos founded Amazon in 1994 as an online bookseller.  Today it is an economic juggernaut and has replaced faltering General Electric as the company other firms most go to when looking to hire chief executive officers and other upper-echelon managers.  In fact, in 2019, The Wall Street Journal’s Management Top 250, an annual ranking that uses the maxims of the late management guru Peter Drucker to identify the most effectively managed companies,” has Amazon in first place.

Following are Amazon’s 14 leadership principles.

Customer Obsession

Leaders start with the customer and work backwards. They work vigorously to earn and keep customer trust. Although leaders pay attention to competitors, they obsess over customers.


Leaders are owners. They think long term and don’t sacrifice long-term value for short-term results. They act on behalf of the entire company, beyond just their own team. They never say ‘that’s not my job.’

Invent and Simplify

Leaders expect and require innovation and invention from their teams and always find ways to simplify. They are externally aware, look for new ideas from everywhere, and are not limited by ‘not invented here.’ As we do new things, we accept that we may be misunderstood for long periods of time.

Are Right, A Lot

Leaders are right a lot. They have strong judgment and good instincts. They seek diverse perspectives and work to disconfirm their beliefs.

Learn and Be Curious

Leaders are never done learning and always seek to improve themselves. They are curious about new possibilities and act to explore them.

Hire and Develop the Best

Leaders raise the performance bar with every hire and promotion. They recognize exceptional talent, and willingly move them throughout the organization. Leaders develop leaders and take seriously their role in coaching others.  We work on behalf of our people to invent mechanisms for development like Career Choice.

Insist on the Highest Standards

Leaders have relentlessly high standards–many people may think these standards are unreasonably high.  Leaders are continually raising the bar and drive their teams to deliver high quality products, services, and processes.  Leaders ensure that defects do not get sent down the line and that problems are fixed so they stay fixed.

Think Big

Thinking small is a self-fulfilling prophecy.  Leaders create and communicate a bold direction that inspires results. They think differently and look around corners for ways to serve customers.

Bias for Action

Speed matters in business.  Many decisions and actions are reversible and do not need extensive study. We value calculated risk taking. 


Accomplish more with less. Constraints breed resourcefulness, self-sufficiency, and invention.  There are no extra points for growing headcount, budget size, or fixed expense.

Earn Trust

Leaders listen attentively, speak candidly, and treat others respectfully. They are vocally self-critical, even when doing so is awkward or embarrassing.  Leaders do not believe their or their team’s body odor smells of perfume. They benchmark themselves and their teams against the best.

Dive Deep

Leaders operate at all levels, stay connected to the details, audit frequently, and are skeptical when metrics and anecdote differ. No task is beneath them.

Have Backbone; Disagree and Commit

Leaders are obligated to respectfully challenge decisions when they disagree, even when doing so is uncomfortable or exhausting. Leaders have conviction and are tenacious. They do not compromise for the sake of social cohesion. Once a decision is determined, they commit wholly.

Deliver Results

Leaders focus on the key inputs for their business and deliver them with the right quality and in a timely fashion. Despite setbacks, they rise to the occasion and never settle.”

These principles are straightforward and easy to understand, yet are difficult to implement.  Businesses that are able to do so prosper. 

American racetracks, with some exceptions, generally fall short on many of the principles.

Horse Racing Business 2019