Two front-page stories in newspapers today depict current economic conditions in the United States that give horse owners, trainers, farm managers, and racing-related businesses cause to be both grateful and concerned.  It is truly a good-news, bad-news narrative that will make for a “business is great but we can’t find enough employees” summer and fall 2018 and likely beyond.

Wall Street Journal headline reads: “U. S. Has More Jobs than Jobless.”  Excerpts from the accompanying article are as follows:  “For the first time since such recordkeeping began in 2000, the number of available positions exceeded the number of job seekers, the Labor department said Tuesday, a shift that is rippling across the economy and affecting the behavior of employers and workers…The unemployment rate ticked down further in May to a seasonally adjusted 3.8%…the last time the rate was lower was in 1969, when young men were being drafted into the Vietnam War.”

Another article–in The Plain Dealer–had a headline “NE Ohio in Federal Crackdown” and reported on a raid by ICE at a garden center that resulted in the arrest of 114 employees who are allegedly in the country illegally.  An ICE official said that the garden center’s owners have not been charged but “potential crimes include harboring and unlawful employment.”

On the one hand, an economy working in all cylinders with full-employment is a boon to entertainment businesses like horse racing that depend on disposable personal income, as reflected in record betting on the 2018 Triple Crown races and an overall improvement in pari-mutuel handle.  On the other hand, finding enough legally-authorized workers to fill the low-paid and physically demanding jobs at racetracks and farms is increasingly a challenging.

The other piece of good news/bad news for the American racing industry is that African-American and Hispanic unemployment statistics are at record-low levels.  While this is a welcome development, it creates problems for horse-racing employers, who rely so much on a workforce staffed by Hispanics.

It is likely that some people who have not been seeking work will now do so and thus alleviate the labor shortage.  However, it is unlikely that they will find appealing physically demanding and low paying jobs with long hours in stables and farms.

What percentage of workers employed on the backsides of racetracks and on farms are illegally in the United States is unknown.  However, it is a safe bet that the percentage is not inconsequential.  With public opinion polls showing that the American people are supportive of tougher immigration measures by the federal government, it is unlikely that a sufficient number of temporary work visas for low-paid jobs will be issued.

Horse-racing businesses will have to be creative in hiring, be more efficient with fewer employees, and raise wages and offer improved benefits and working conditions.  The not-recommended alternative is to hire illegals and run the risk of the public-relations fallout and possible prosecution.

Copyright © 2018 Horse Racing Business


A seemingly insignificant and remote event can change the course of history, in this case horse-racing history.

The Mackinac Island, Michigan Convention and Tourist Bureau, an unlikely source of information on horse racing, explains why Justify would likely not have been around to run in the Belmont Stakes had not a Rebel prisoner, Brigadier General William Giles Harding, during the Civil War been allowed by his Union captors to return home nearly three years before the War’s conclusion to breed racehorses on one of the most prominent Thoroughbred nurseries of the 19th century, Belle Meade Plantation in Nashville, Tennessee.

Following is an excerpt from the Mackinac Island Convention and Tourist Bureau’s vignette:

“…did you know that thoroughbred race horses have ties to Mackinac…?

Many winners of The Kentucky Derby, including this year’s champ, Justify, are linked to a man who once spent a summer at Fort Mackinac as a political prisoner–a wealthy Tennessean who became one of horse racing’s most prized breeders.

William Giles Harding was one of three Confederate sympathizers who were imprisoned on the island back in 1862, according to an account by Mackinac Historic State Parks.  Harding was the owner of Belle Meade, a large plantation near Nashville operated mostly by slave labor.  He was also a prominent supporter of the South and a military donor during the Civil War, and that got him arrested by Union authorities.

Harding, George Washington Barrow, and Josephus Conn Guild were imprisoned way up north at Fort Mackinac, which was empty after the soldiers stationed there left to fight in the war.  An army captain in Detroit pulled together a garrison of nearly 100 men to guard the prisoners, who spent a pleasant and uneventful summer on Mackinac.

Harding was allowed to go home that fall after swearing an oath of loyalty to the Union, and he spent the rest of his days turning Belle Meade into one of the world’s best horse-breeding farms.  Belle Meade studs of the late 19th century included Bonnie Scotland, who is an ancestor of Justify and many other Derby winners, as well as many past Triple Crown horses like Secretariat.”

As far as General Harding and some of his former Union foes were concerned, hard feelings over the Civil War evidently did not carry over in the aftermath of the hostilities.  According to the Belle Meade website:  “The stereotype of the old  Southern plantation made Belle Meade a popular destination for many, including President and Mrs. Grover Cleveland, Robert Todd Lincoln, General U.S. Grant, General William T. Sherman, General Winfield Scott Hancock, and Adlai E. Stevenson.”

Horse Racing Business 2018


Max Hirsch was the trainer for King Ranch’s Assault, the Triple Crown champion of 1946.  After the colt from Texas won the Preakness Stakes, Hall of Famer Hirsch put him on a conditioning regimen that is vastly more challenging than the routines of today.

May 11            Won 1 3/16 mile Preakness by a neck in 2:01 2/5; fast track

May 12            Shipped to Belmont

May 16            4 furlongs in :52
May 18            3 furlongs in :40
May 20            4 furlongs in :48
May 22            1 mile in 1:43 3/5
May 24            3 furlongs in :35
May 25            1¼ miles in 2:05
May 28            4 furlongs in :50
May 29            1½ miles in 2:32

June 1              Won 1 1/2 mile Belmont by 3 lengths in 2:30 4/5; fast track

The Belmont was Assault’s 15th career start.  Sterile at stud, he ran in 27 more races after the Belmont for a lifetime record of 18 wins, 6 seconds, and seven thirds from 42 career starts.

Horse Racing Business 2018

Assault’s work history for the Belmont was provided by Max Hirsch’s grandson, former trainer Bill Hirsch.