Archives for November 2014


Performance enhancing drugs by definition give human and equine athletes alike a competitive edge.  Major League Baseball’s before and after eras of league-wide testing and punitive sanctions for steroid use vividly illuminate the distorting effects of PEDs on athletic achievements.

MLB banned steroids in 1991, but did not adopt league-wide testing for PEDs until 2003, and penalties for violations were not implemented until the 2006 season.  Though urine testing was not foolproof (for example, it could not detect usage of human growth hormones) the reduction in steroid use alone seems to have contributed significantly to the downward trend in offensive production statistics since 2006.

MLB expanded to 30 teams for the 1998 season. In the years 1998-2005, prior to introduction of penalties for banned drug use, the average number of regular-season home runs hit per year was 5,310, compared to 4,801 per year in 2006-2014.  The top-six all-time records for the most home runs hit in a single regular season are held by three players tainted by alleged steroid use and came in 1998, 1999, and 2001.  Barry Bonds is the record-holder with 73 home runs.  By contrast, the most regular-season home runs hit by a player since 2006 is 54 and the leader for 2014 hit 40.

In 2014, MLB adopted the Carbon Isotope Mass Spectrometry test that can detect PEDs used within a two-week period rather than 24 hours and also made its drug-use penalties even harsher.

MLB’s PED-testing and sanctions on players that violate the rules suggest that an aggressive industry-wide collaboration in American horse racing to clamp down on PEDs, including race-day furosemide, would ultimately yield a cleaner sport–and a truer picture of the natural ability and durability of racehorses, especially the ones selected to propagate the breed.

Copyright © 2014 Blood-Horse Publications. Used with permission.


Human athletes have been following training routines at least since the earliest version of the Olympic games began in about 950 BC.  Racehorse training also has a long history, with the sport as we know it today having its origins in 18th century England.

Training of athletes has improved greatly over the years with refined scientific approaches, better nutrition, and sports medicine.  But digital technologies are now assisting like never before.

This introduction leads to the subject for today–a company called Zebra Technologies.  It offers RFID (radio frequency ID), for example, to assist companies to efficiently manage inventory and manufacturing.  One of the firm’s product lines is Zebra MotionWorks Sports Solutions, which is being used by Nascar, some women’s soccer teams, and the National Football League.

The company explains how RFID tags are currently deployed by 17 NFL teams:

  • “Tags on players track vital stats indoors and out to within inches.
  • A custom implementation of receivers and data hubs at the stadium house real-time analytics hardware and software.
  • Algorithms aggregate players’ statistics and display them in real time in custom applications.
  • Coaches, players, broadcast media, and fans use new data to improve the game experience.”

This process is similar to Trakus, the system installed at some horse racetracks.  Trakus describes its service as follows:

  • “More accurate and immediate than GPS or other positioning techniques, the Trakus system uses proprietary wireless communications to track tags fitted into each horse’s saddlecloth during live racing.
  • The durable, lightweight tag weighs 2.8 ounces (86 g) and it has the profile and size of a credit card or PCMCIA computer card, about 2 x 3 inches.
  • For racetracks, the size, format, and layout typical of North American racing, the Trakus system uses 6-10 trackside enclosures that host small antennas located at various points of convenience around the outermost track surface, e.g., camera turrets, light poles, grandstands, etc.
  • These trackside enclosures, computational server, and database instantaneously provide the precise location of each horse, average and peak speed, trip distance per segment, and relative distance from the leader throughout the race.”

Data from companies like Zebra MotionWorks Sports Solutions and Trakus will no doubt increasingly be used to enhance the training of racehorses.  Additionally, the data derived from RFID tracking are made-to-order for serious handicappers.

Training racehorses has definitely entered a new era.  While in-depth handicapping of racehorses has always been data intensive, RFID tracking provides even more empirical insights.

RFID technologies are not disruptive to the traditional methods of training and handicapping, but rather, are sustaining in that they can improve existing processes instead of replacing them.

Copyright © 2014 Horse Racing Business.


North American racetracks have searched without effect for a strategy to reverse the persistent decline in pari-mutuel wagering.  Thus their preferred approach has been to transition into gaming, thereby relegating pari-mutuel wagering to a subordinate status and compelling the bloodstock side of the horse-racing industry to downsize.

Horse racing’s lack of a coherent industry strategy is increasingly a liability as the gambling terrain becomes more crowded and the competition more intense.  A shakeout has already begun with the closing of prominent casinos and racetracks.

In a new book titled The Soft Edge (by Rich Karlgaard), FedEx founder and CEO Fred Smith cogently elucidates on why strategy is the sine qua non in any industry or business:  “You can have the best operations.  You can be the most adept at whatever it is that you’re doing.   But if you have a bad strategy, it is all for naught…  Absent a viable strategy, you’re in the process of going out of business.”

The decentralized structure of the horse racing enterprise has inhibited the formulation and execution of anything resembling a grand strategy to make the sport/business more attractive to existing and prospective customers, who have plenty of gambling and entertainment options to choose among.  Whether horse racing’s major interest groups will voluntarily align for the common good to proactively address divisive but make-or-break issues is a question that so far has been answered mostly in the negative, though commendable actions by, for example, the Jockey Club, the Racing Medication & Testing Consortium, and the Stronach Group are significant steps in the right direction.

Smith’s battle-tested words of wisdom should be sufficient motivation for racing’s most influential individuals and organizations to unite behind key initiatives.

Copyright © 2014 Blood-Horse Publications.  Used with permission.