Archives for May 2014

THE CIRCUS SETTLEMENT COULD AFFECT SITUATIONS LIKE PETA AND ASMUSSEN

This past week, Feld Entertainment, the parent company of Ringling Bros. and Barnum & Bailey circus, received an award of $15.75 million from a number of animal-welfare organizations to terminate a legal battle that has been going on for 14 years.  The parties paying Feld are the Humane Society of the United States, Animal Welfare Institute, Born Free USA, the Wildlife Advocacy Project, and their attorneys (the American Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals settled previously).  These groups were not able to prove that the circus mistreats elephants and, in fact, they bribed a former elephant cleaner and feeder for Ringling Bros. with about $200,000 to claim that the circus abused its elephants.

The Wall Street Journal wrote:

“The animal rights litigants were already on the hook for Feld’s attorney’s fees after a federal judge last year slapped the groups and their counsel with an unprecedented penalty for making ‘frivolous,’ ‘vexatious,’ and ‘groundless’ claims in court against Feld.

The sanction marked the first time that a private defendant in a Endangered Species Act case was awarded attorney fees since Congress passed the law in 1973…

The judge who imposed the sanction, Emmet G. Sullivan, was the same judge who in 2009 threw out the animal-abuse lawsuit, citing the ‘groundless nature of [the] claims.’

Feld has now recovered $25 million in the litigation.  American Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals, another defendant in the case, had already paid Feld $9.3 million in a separate settlement in 2012.”

The Feld settlement should send a signal loud and clear that you had better be able to substantiate your allegations about mistreatment by animal owners and caretakers before making them.  One wonders, for example, whether the Feld case will embolden racehorse trainer Steve Asmussen to sue PETA for defamation and damaging his business interests.  The PETA tapes must show illegalities, or else Asmussen may have recourse in the court system for harm to his reputation and monetary losses.

The vast majority of the people I’ve known who own and care for racehorses are compassionate.  Moreover, many of them are working to rid their sport of medication abuses and to find better solutions to abominations like horse slaughter.

Similarly, animal-welfare groups generally do their best to help defenseless animals, and much of the work is done by volunteers with kind hearts.  The problem lies with the zealots.

Copyright ©2014 Horse Racing Business

SIRE RANKINGS ON DURABILITY OF OFFSPRING + RACING ABILITY

The Grayson-Jockey Club Research Foundation Inc. published findings for 2013 regarding how capably breeding stallions have performed on producing durable progeny. In order to be considered, a stallion had to “have ranked within the first 200 sires by progeny earnings for the calendar year 2013.”

A revealing question is how closely the Grayson durability rankings correspond to the uppermost portion of the Blood-Horse list of leading sires of 2013?

The year-end Blood-Horse enumeration of 2013 leading sires ranked 70 stallions by progeny earnings. Of the top 25 sires on this list, only five also appeared in Grayson’s ranking of 100 stallions on its first measure of durability—a sire’s lifetime starts per starter. The five sires had an average ranking of 77.6 (of 100) and their individual rankings ranged from a high of 58th to a low of 99th.

Grayson’s second durability criterion was the percentage of foals of racing age that started. Thirteen of the top-25 sires on Blood-Horse’s earnings leaders for 2013 made the Grayson rankings. The average ranking out of 100 sires was 46.3, with a range between second and 82nd.

Stated differently, of the 25 leading sires by progeny earnings for 2013, 80% did not qualify on Grayson’s durability criterion of a sire’s lifetime starts per starter and 48% did not make the grade for the criterion of a sire’s foals of racing age that started.

Grayson calculated a third durability/quality measure that presents a different slant—the top sires of stakes winners 4 years old and up. On this list of 68 sires, 21 of the 25 leading sires by progeny earnings for 2013 were included. Their average ranking was 27.5 and the range was 1st to 68th.

What these results mean is debatable and need to be considered within the context of variables such as how long a stallion has been at stud and the quality of mares bred to him. However, what is not arguable is that a sire appearing on the Blood-Horse top-25 list of leading sires by earnings as well as on all three of the Grayson durability lists offers a broodmare owner a stallion whose progeny have generally demonstrated both soundness and ability. In 2013, only five sires were in this elite category: Macho Uno, Malibu Moon, More than Ready, Stormy Atlantic, and Tale of the Cat.

An adapted version of this analysis was published in the Blood-Horse. Copyright © 2014 Blood-Horse Publications. Used with permission.

CALIFORNIA CHROME WOULD HAVE BEEN AN UNDRAFTED FREE AGENT

The NFL draft is a widely anticipated rite-of-spring by fans of the 32 teams; it is one of the most overanalyzed events in the United States, with mock draft after mock draft.  The 2014 movie Draft Day–starring Kevin Costner and Jennifer Garner as the general manager and salary-cap specialist, respectively, of the Cleveland Browns–depicted the scheming and behind-the-scenes pressures that transpire.

This year’s National Football League draft, with all its hoopla, is Thursday through Saturday, May 8-10.  The evaluation process of college players preceding the draft has a lot in common with selecting future racehorses.

College players are put through extensive pre-draft evaluations, including measurement of height and weight, speed, jumping ability, and other metrics deemed to be necessary for a particular position, such as hand size for quarterbacks.  Candidates are also subjected to interviews with coaches and the Wonderlich test.  Hot prospects have pro days in which they perform for coaches and general managers.

The horse-racing versions of the NFL draft are the premier auctions of select yearlings and 2-year-olds.  Bloodstock agents and buyers size up prospects for conformation and stride and subject them to various physical tests to check on bone health and breathing capacity.

Some two-year-old Thoroughbreds have their pro days by running an eighth of a mile as fast as possible.  What is the great unknown is how fast a Thoroughbred will run in actual competition at longer distances after being jostled and with dirt flying.

College athletes hailing from the perennial football powers have shown themselves to be capable of playing at the highest collegiate level and therefore are deemed to have the best pedigrees, whereas players from lesser football schools have more modest pedigrees and are generally viewed skeptically.  The pedigree equivalent in horse racing is bloodlines, and pedigrees full of black-type (stakes winners) in the immediate generations are most highly valued.

Regardless of the appearance of largely scientific and quantitative approaches used to appraise college football players and future racehorses, the tasks are replete with subjectivity and guesswork.  It is difficult to forecast heart and will to win in a human or equine athlete.  This partially explains why three of the greatest quarterbacks in the history of the NFL were not first-round choices.  Johnny Unitas was drafted in the ninth round, Joe Montana in the third round, and Tom Brady in the sixth round.  All of them had physical faults, such as Montana was said to be too short and too slight.

Last Saturday at Churchill Downs, California Chrome, the product of a mare purchased for $8,000 and bred to a sprinter stallion with a $2,500 fee won the Kentucky Derby.  This is not a fluke, as other low-priced colts like Seattle Slew and I’ll Have Another won the Derby.   The sensational racehorses and sires Northern Dancer and Sunday Silence were basically rejected as yearlings by auction buyers.

If you closely follow the NFL draft, you most likely have a rooting interest in a given team.  Hope springs eternal that the guy your team selects in the first round will surely turn out to be a pro bowler.  The validity of this high expectation will emerge, of course, when the player shows what he can do in the NFL.

Choosing yearling Thoroughbreds is much riskier than selecting college football players for the NFL because NFL scouts have had the opportunity to watch a player’s college games for three or four years.  While a racehorse owner increases his or her odds of buying a horse that can run fast by sticking to yearlings or 2-year-olds with nearly faultless conformation and blueblood pedigrees, the odds are still stacked against the buyer succeeding.

The California Chrome story is akin to an NFL team signing an undrafted free agent who ends up as a franchise quarterback or even with a bust in his honor in that coveted Hall of Fame building in Canton, Ohio.  The free agent would not be showcased in tonight’s NFL draft television extravaganza in New York.   And next year’s Kentucky Derby winner is unlikely to be found in the list of million-dollar-plus yearlings for 2013.

This is great for the NFL and it is great for horse racing.  Rooting for the underdog is a powerful emotion.

Copyright ©2014 Horse Racing Business