Archives for September 2012


The summer meet at Saratoga Race Course has a long and illustrious history of showcasing top-of-the-line 2-year-old racing. Indeed, many gifted racehorses debuted at Saratoga over its 149 years in upstate New York.

During the 2012 Saratoga season, 89 races for 2-year-olds were carded and they had 683 starters (some horses ran more than once). Even though many of the juveniles were making just their first or second career start, 544 of the 683, or 79.7%, ran with the aid of furosemide (brand name Lasix or Salix). The medical reason for furosemide is ostensibly to alleviate exercise induced pulmonary hemorrhaging–EIPH.

Particularly intriguing is that the putatively best juvenile colts and fillies, those capable of competing in graded stakes, had an even greater frequency of furosemide use. In Saratoga’s seven graded stakes for 2-year-olds, 43 of 48 starters, or 89.6%, ran on furosemide. Every filly in the Grade 1 Spinaway was given the drug.

The nearly 90% of starters in 2-year-old graded stakes races at Saratoga that ran on furosemide is not appreciably lower than the approximately 92% of all Thoroughbreds in the United States receiving the drug on race-day.

Seventy nine of the 89 races for 2-year-olds at Saratoga, or 88.8%, were won by a colt or filly that had been administered furosemide. In the graded stakes races, 100% of the winners raced on the drug.

This year’s meet was of particular interest given the fact more than 60 owners around the country pledged to race their 2-year-olds furosemide-free. The number of 2-year-olds that didn’t race on the drug was considerably higher than it was in the summer of 2011 at Saratoga.

The pervasive reliance on furosemide for 2-year-old starters at the 2012 Saratoga meet points persuasively to one of two inferences. Either the preponderance of lightly raced 2-year-olds, with enough talent to compete at a premier racetrack like Saratoga, are apt to experience EIPH acute enough to warrant the use of furosemide, or their trainers believe the drug is a performance enhancer.

Copyright © 2012 The Blood-Horse and originally published therein. Used with permission.


Hall of Fame trainer D. Wayne Lukas (on a segment taped for Clean Horse Racing) provided his insight on EIPH and furosemide in world-class 2-year-old racing. He cited as a case-in-point the use of the drug on 2-year-olds during April meets at Keeneland. Ever since Kentucky regulators decreed that furosemide was a legal medication for race-day, Lukas says, “Almost every 2-year-old that ran at Keeneland, going 4 ½ furlongs, first start of his life, ran on Lasix. It is ludicrous to believe that every one of those horses bled. Chances are probably none of them bled going 4 ½ furlongs that early in their career.”


Betfair was founded by Andrew Black and Edward Wray in 2000 and became the world’s largest online betting exchange. These creative individuals essentially established a virtual betting marketplace where buyers and sellers could come together to negotiate with one another on odds, with Betfair taking a commission on the transactions.

In 2009, Betfair acquired the U. S.-based TVG. The subsidiary telecasts horse racing on its eponymous cable channel and runs a betting service that can be accessed online, by telephone, and through set-top remote in some locations.

On October 22, 2010, Goldman-Sachs led Betfair’s initial public offering on the London Stock Exchange. Betfair’s stock soared nearly 20% on its first day of trading. Seven weeks later, the stock price had declined by 24% due to slow growth in Betfair’s revenues from its core betting business.

Betfair has continued to perform significantly short of investor expectations. From its initial public offering until the present, Betfair’s stock price has plummeted by close to 50% and the future looks to be full of hazards for the company.

Barry Dixon, the director of research for the Irish wealth management company Davy, recently appeared on CNBC’s Squawk Box Europe and remarked: “Betfair was a darling of the market a couple of years ago when it IPO’d…[but] I think it’s going to face some challenging headwinds over the next few years…It’s a stock we’d really be concerned about.”

Dixon explained that about six percent of Betfair’s revenues from exchange betting are currently subject to gambling taxes, but that percentage is likely to increase dramatically. He sees Betfair’s profit margins narrowing as countries like Greece and Germany increasingly regulate online gaming, including exchange wagering. Dixon said: “We think that by 2015, 100 percent of the revenues will be subject to gambling taxes…with an exchange-based model, taxes on revenue will kill it and we think it could take a third off group profits.”

Betfair is almost sure to disagree with this gloomy assessment, but there is no denying that investors persist in factoring negative possibilities into the company’s stock price, as evidenced by the precipitous downward trajectory since Betfair became publicly traded.

TVG planned to introduce exchange wagering in California during the summer of 2012. However, that effort was blocked–in June 2012–by the Thoroughbred Owners of California, whose approval is required.

(Note: At its meeting of September 20, 2012, the California Horse Racing Board gave its initial approval to exchange wagering. As a result, California will likely to be the first state to have exchange wagering, even though further approvals will be required–taking at least several months.)

Copyright © 2012 Horse Racing Business

Originally published in the Blood-Horse. Used with permission.


Del Mar racetrack near San Diego was founded in 1937 by Bing Crosby and several celebrity partners. One of the investors was businessman Charles Howard, who owned Seabiscuit. Del Mar quickly became a popular place and remains so today.

At the conclusion of Del Mar’s 2012 summer meet on September 5, Matthew T. Hall of the U-T San Diego newspaper published an article titled “Death a Part of Life at Del Mar Racetrack.” Unlike the 2012 articles and opinion pieces by the New York Times, regarding horse breakdowns and deaths at America’s racetracks, Hall provided a factual and reasoned report of the problem Del Mar has had with horse injuries and fatalities.

In 2012, 11 horses died during the 37 days of the Del Mar meet. Nine of these were due to injury and two to heart attacks. According to statistics that Hall retrieved from the California Horse Racing Board, the number of horse deaths at Del Mar since 2001 were as follows: 2011, 12; 2010, 5; 2009, 9; 2008, 14; 2007, 12; 2006, 13; 2005, 23; 2004, 26; 2003, 17; 2002, 22; and 2001, 13. Hall did not say how many of these deaths were due to injury as opposed to natural causes. He did report that 200-300 racehorses die every year at California tracks, which is unacceptable.

The temptation is to blame Polytrack for Del Mar’s problems. The synthetic surface was installed at Del Mar in early 2007. However, in the six years (2007-2012) that Del Mar has raced on Polytrack, the average number of horse deaths annually = 10.5 and in the six years immediately prior to the installation of Polytrack, the average number of horse deaths annually = 19. Thus one could infer from the facts that Polytrack has helped rather than harmed.

Polytrack is used at such North American racetracks as Arlington Park, Keeneland, and Woodbine, plus prominent tracks in Europe and elsewhere. In order to evaluate the horse-injury rate at Del Mar, one would need to have the comparable figures for other Polytrack racetracks. Absent these statistics, the Del Mar death rate seems alarmingly high.

Del Mar is under the direction of competent executives and the trainers running horses at Del Mar are generally some of the best. Moreover, Del Mar is not the kind of venue where low-level claiming horses–near the end of their careers and susceptible to injury–compete.

The on-track horse deaths at Del Mar cannot be dismissed as a string of bad luck because the problem has persisted over the years of the 21st century.

To get at the causes of the breakdowns, one must research a very straightforward question: What is done differently at Del Mar, as compared to, say, the summer meet at Saratoga Race Course? This kind of inquiry can generate potential explanations that can be tested. For example, even such remote possibilities as the effect of ocean atmospherics and summer temperatures on footing need to be explored. What are the breakdown statistics for Monmouth Park, also a summer-season racetrack near an ocean, compared to Del Mar?

The perplexing breakdown problem at Del Mar threatens the reputation of what is one of America’s premier racing meets. At some point, the number of horse deaths at Del Mar is likely to tarnish the track’s image and affect attendance and handle. Moreover, this is not the picture that the racing enterprise wants to project, anywhere, but especially not at one of its most visible locations.

But even more important, the death rate is troubling from the standpoint of animal welfare. Accidents are certain in any kind of competition, but the Del Mar situation, in my mind at least, is well beyond normal. An intensified search for answers must begin now, well before the 2013 edition of “Where the surf meets the turf” opens.

Here is hoping that a solution is found.

Copyright © 2012 Horse Racing Business