Following is what the website of the National Museum of Racing & Hall of Fame says about eligibility of a Thoroughbred racehorse for Hall of Fame consideration.

“Thoroughbreds become eligible when five calendar years have elapsed between their final racing year and their year of nomination.  Thoroughbreds remain eligible between five and 25 calendar years following their final racing year.  Thoroughbreds retired for more than 25 calendar years become eligible through the Historic Review Committee.”

Glaringly absent is language specifying the criteria voters should use in determining whether a horse merits Hall of Fame inclusion.  The voters are left to apply their own standards, which is not so much an issue when an obvious horse candidate is evaluated.  However, a problem arises whenever a horse’s credentials are exemplary yet flawed in some meaningful way.  Justify presents such a case in that while he was undefeated and won the Triple Crown, his racing career consisted of six starts, spanning a period of less than four months, and he never raced against older horses.

Major League Baseball requires a player to have completed 10 seasons to be eligible for its Hall of Fame.  By contrast, neither the National Football League nor the National Basketball Association designate a minimum number.

When Justify becomes eligible for the Hall of Fame, voters will have to grapple with his candidacy.  In the wake of his retirement, opinions will abound on whether a colt with six career starts and no competition against older horses qualifies.  As time goes by, opinion will ebb and flow and may never coalesce around a yes or no answer.

The Hall of Fame needs to take action now and set down in writing some hard and fast rules that voters can follow.  If the rules are to remain silent on how many races are minimally necessary to get into the Hall of Fame, language is imperative on whether a candidate must have won Grade I races not restricted to horses of a certain age.

While American Pharoah raced only eleven times, of which ten races were age restricted, he won the Breeders’ Cup Classic in convincing fashion against all comers.  His small number of starts, with all but one against horses of his own age, would have raised the same issue as with Justify had he not won the Breeders’ Cup Classic.  That one race made him a lock for eventual Hall of Fame enshrinement.  Justify does not have the same credentials to compensate for only six starts against horses of his own age.

Copyright © 2018 Horse Racing Business


Justify’s sweep of the American Triple Crown races in 2018 elevated him into the rarified company of twelve other colts.  One could debate—with no provable conclusion—how Justify measures up among the 13 Triple Crown champs in terms of ability.  While that question cannot be answered, the Triple Crown winners can be compared with surety on earnings.

Start with how each colt ranks on the metric of total career earnings.  In the first presentation below, the Triple Crown winners are rank ordered from most career earnings to least.  All earnings are stated in 2018 dollars.  Each colt’s number of career starts is also shown and then followed by the number of wins, places, and shows.

Citation (1948) 45 32 10 2 $11,525, 915
Whirlaway (1941) 60 32 15 9 $10,012,863
Affirmed (1978) 29 22 5 1 $9,636, 094
Assault (1946) 42 18 6 7 $9,337,371
American Pharoah (2015) 11 9 1 0 $9,636,094
Secretariat (1973) 21 16 3 1 $7,776,833
Seattle Slew (1977) 17 14 2 0 $5,198,307
War Admiral (1937) 26 21 3 1 $4,875,454
Gallant Fox (1930) 17 11 3 2 $4,828,209
Justify (2018) 6 6 0 0 $3,798,000
Count Fleet (1943) 21 16 4 1 $3,726,182
Omaha (1935) 22 9 7 2 $2,862,461
Sir Barton (1919) 31 13 6 5 $1,781,807

The next ranking depicts how much each colt earned per start (in 2018 dollars), which compensates for the vast difference in number of starts.  Whirlaway, for example, had the most career starts at 60 and Justify the least at six.

American Pharoah $848,376
Justify $633,000
Secretariat $370,325
Affirmed $332,279
Seattle Slew $305,783
Gallant Fox $284,012
Citation $256,131
Assault $222,318
War Admiral $187,517
Count Fleet $177,437
Whirlaway $166,881
Omaha $130,112
Sir Barton $57,478

Copyright © 2018 Horse Racing Business


About ten years ago, speakers at horse-racing business conferences would sometimes point to NASCAR as a model for horse racing to follow to increase its popularity.  According to them, the marketing gurus behind NASCAR had the right formula for attracting and keeping fans.

How times have changed.

For example, CNBC published an article on May 27, 2018 titled “The Rise and Fall of one of the Biggest Sports Leagues in the U.S.”  It said: “Americans have been swiftly falling out of love with NASCAR. The iconic US sports league has had an undeniably rough few years, from a rapid drop in TV ratings, to sponsor attrition.”

Then, on July 7, 2018, CNBC published a second article, by MacKenzie Sigalos, with the headline “Here’s What Went Wrong with NASCAR.”  An excerpt from the article reads:

[NASCAR’s] been losing TV viewers.  It’s having trouble filling the stands, even after losing tens of thousands of seats from its stadiums.  And perhaps most worrisome of all, it’s losing sponsors, and those that remain are paying less than they used to.”

The author attributes NASCAR’s decline in some measure to “straying from the brand.”

“It’s partly to do with the fact that it’s alienated its core stock car racing fan.  In a bid to attract a new kind of audience, NASCAR moved into trendier markets in the ’90s.  NASCAR built superspeedways in Las Vegas and Southern California–and shut down some classic venues in America’s southern states.  But the move to be nimble with the brand backfired.  The new crowds didn’t convert into the die-hard loyalists that the sport needed.  Former NASCAR executive Ramsey Poston says the league was trying to enter new markets without the Southern stigma–a move that he calls a mistake.”

NASCAR’s misguided marketing strategy has a significant lesson for racetrack executives.  In brief: “Don’t alienate your core supporters.”  While it is certainly imperative for horse racing to cultivate fans for the future, too much emphasis on this approach can lead to the unintended consequence of not catering enough to its most valuable customers.  Horse racing’s revenues and profits derive from people placing bets and the vast majority of pari-mutuel handle comes from a relatively small proportion of bettors.

NASCAR mistakenly tried to escape its “Southern stigma” and horse racing sometimes attempts to downplay its gambling roots.

Copyright © 2018 Horse Racing Business