The recent Keeneland yearling sales sold 2,792 horses for a total of $272.9 million and an average of $97,740.  The sales topper brought $3 million, which was the largest amount paid for a yearling in the United States in 2017.

Dollar figures of this magnitude vividly demonstrate the sizeable business of buying and selling prospective racehorses.  But they obscure the risks and emotional pain that are inescapably part of breeding and raising horses.  A heartfelt discussion on Sirius radio between host Steve Byk (At the Races with Steve Byk) and bloodstock expert Sid Fernando on September 20, 2017, conveyed this point better than any words that could be written to describe the lows of breeding and raising horses.

Mr. Byk, a small-scale participant in breeding and racing, told of how he had bred three mares (one rescued from a kill pen on the way to slaughter) and ended up with only two of their offspring still living after several years, instead of six or seven.  He told how a weanling unexpectedly died from disease and a mare aborted her foal on New Year’s Eve.

You could tell from Mr. Byk’s tone that the experience still hurts him deeply.  Anyone who has ever lost a family pet knows how the feeling of emptiness lingers.  Like Mr. Byk, the primary motive for numerous breeders with only a few mares is usually the love of the game and certainly not hefty profits.

However, my guess (you can never know someone’s emotions for sure)  is that the vast majority of large-scale breeders are similarly affected.  While commercial breeders expect that there will inevitably be mares that don’t carry their foals to full term and foals and yearlings that get sick and die, they still are saddened by the losses, and not just because a possibly financially valuable asset has been lost.

[Click here to access the At the Races segment.  The discussion referenced begins at about 35 minutes into the segment.]


In another part of the Byk-Fernando dialogue, Mr. Byk told (not in a braggadocios way) of how he considered whether to breed a Dunkirk mare he raced.  In the end, he gave her to an eventer because, in his view, she was not good enough to propagate the breed.  This made me think about the preponderance of entries I see in the cheapest claiming races at lower-rung racetracks.  It is evident that breeders have too often mated undistinguished mares to stallions that have little or no qualifications to be sires.

On Thursday October 5, I will post another article about a few of the many people who show their love for horses via their actions.

Copyright © 2017 Horse Racing Business


On September 15, 2017, Churchill Downs, Inc. and Keeneland Association, Inc. announced a partnership for the purpose of opening two new racetracks in Kentucky.  One would be located in Corbin, in the southeast, and the other would be in Oak Grove, in the southwest.  Each track would have a live race meet and historical wagering machines.

The rationale is unclear.  The overwhelming trend in horse racing, and retailing per se, is away from brick and mortar and toward online. Moreover, the geographical sites selected are poor and isolated areas.

Corbin is in two Appalachia counties, Knox and Whitely, with sparse populations.  Knox County has almost 32,000 residents with a per capita income of about $11,000 and Whitely County has 36,100 residents with per-capita income of approximately $13,000.  In Knox County, 35% of the families have incomes below the poverty line and the figure is 26% in Whitely County.

Corbin is 86 miles from Knoxville, Tennessee, 89 miles from Lexington, Kentucky, and 163 miles from Louisville, Kentucky.  These are the nearest population centers.

Oak Grove is in Christian County, Kentucky, about 20 miles away from the Army base Fort Campbell.  The county’s population is 73,000 and the per-capita income is $14,600.  Fifteen percent of the families in Christian County have incomes below the poverty line.

Oak Grove is 73 miles from Nashville, Tennessee, 83 miles from Evansville, Indiana, and 170 miles to Louisville, Kentucky.  Kentucky Downs, located in Franklin Kentucky, is only 57 miles away and Ellis Park in Henderson, Kentucky is 88 miles distant.  Ellis Park is convenient to Evansville patrons.

While Oak Grove appears to be better able to support a racetrack than Corbin, neither location has anything approaching adequate population and buying power to do so.

It may be that the intent is to open TV production studios, so to speak, to beam racing signals to bettors elsewhere.  Yet there already are ample racetracks competing for bettors’ attention and dollars.

A more plausible motive for opening the racetracks is to establish locations for installing video lottery terminals should Kentucky legalize them to help close the state’s yawning budget deficit and address its huge unfunded pension liabilities.

Why enough people from population centers would patronize the racetracks when casino gaming, including table games, is easily accessible in Indiana, Ohio, and Tennessee (on the Cherokee reservation) is a puzzling question.

Copyright © 2017 Horse Racing Business


Following is a partial list of noteworthy developments in American horse racing over the past couple of years:

The U. S. Department of Treasury and the Internal Revenue Service finally modernized regulations pertaining to tax withholding on winning wagers.  This has resulted in an estimated $75 million annual increase in pari-mutuel wagering on U. S. horse racing.

Racetracks offering the vast majority of Grade I and Grade II races are closely collaborating  in scheduling of major stakes races, and this has provided a $150 million boost to pari-mutuel wagering, as predicted by a McKinsey & Company study done for The Jockey Club.

Keeneland opted for maximum takeout rates on its customers’ wagers but had a change of mind and reversed the decision.

Almost all of the states with racinos no longer earmark a portion of gaming revenues to horse-racing purses.

The Equine Injury Database reveals that fatal injuries have continued to dramatically decline–to .50 fatalities per thousand starts–as improvements have been made in racetrack surfaces and research has identified what horse profiles are most at risk, which has allowed state veterinarians to more accurately screen out horses that should not be racing.  Another reason for the decrease in fatalities is that more racetracks have installed safer synthetic surfaces.

The federal Thoroughbred Horseracing Integrity Act of 2015 became law. Consequently, a government-sanctioned but private non-profit organization is setting and enforcing uniform medication rules for Thoroughbred horse racing, including out-of-competition testing.  The organization designated furosemide or Lasix as a performance-enhancing drug.

Penn National Race Course has become a model for integrity.

The horse-racing industry reluctantly came to grips with the reality that its aftercare initiatives, while greatly commendable, were not saving nearly enough former racehorses.  The outcome was a dependable and much increased flow of dollars to aftercare facilities funded by racetracks, auction houses, owners, trainers, breeders, and others whose businesses depend on racehorse commerce.

A major racing operation headquartered in Europe is plotting to achieve, arguably, the most difficult feat in horse racing: to win the Kentucky Derby on dirt in early May and the Epsom (English) Derby on turf in early June…with the same colt.  Only two owners have ever attempted to do so, with Bold Arrangement in 1986 (2nd in the Kentucky Derby and 14th in the Epsom Derby) and Dr. Devious in 1992 (7th in the Kentucky Derby and 1st in the Epsom Derby).

A very lucky low-roller by the name of Bill Shanklin was the sole winner of the biggest Pick-6 payout in Breeders’ Cup history.  Since then, only a few people and the IRS know of his whereabouts.

Copyright © 2017 Horse Racing Business