Archives for March 2016


A news release from the American Jockey Club (March 22, 2016) reported a significant drop in fatal racehorse injuries–defined as those occurring within a race or 72 hours afterwards–between 2014 and 2015.

Statistics from The Equine Injury Database revealed a 14% decrease in fatal injuries. Dr. Tim Parkin, the veterinarian and researcher who performed the data analysis, attributed the improvement to “wide-ranging safety initiatives embraced by tracks, horsemen, and regulators…”

The Jockey Club related the specific statistics, as follows:

“Across all surfaces, ages, and distances, the fatality rate dropped from 1.89 per 1,000 starts in 2014 to 1.62 per 1,000 starts in 2015. The overall fatality rate of 1.62 per 1,000 starts is the lowest since the Equine Injury Database started publishing annual statistics in 2009.

The fatality rates associated with each racing surface were as follows:

  • On turf surfaces, there were 1.22 fatalities per 1,000 starts in 2015, compared to 1.75 in 2014.
  • On dirt surfaces, there were 1.78 fatalities per 1,000 starts in 2015, compared to 2.02 in 2014.
  • On synthetic surfaces, there were 1.18 fatalities per 1,000 starts in 2015, compared to 1.20 in 2014.”

In early March 2016, researchers Hisham Talukder and Thomas Vincent presented a paper titled “Preventing In-Game Injuries for NBA Players” at the MIT Sloan Sports Analytics Conference that focused on injury prevention in the National Basketball Association. Some of its findings are intriguing in terms of reducing racehorse injuries. The co-authors found that resting the 20% of NBA players who are at most risk for injuries could prevent 60% of injuries. Who are the 20%?

A Wall Street Journal article summarized key findings:

“What surprised the authors most were the factors that were least important: the number of games in the last 14 days and the number of games on consecutive nights in that time….Better indicators were a player’s speed, usage, and overall season workload. That helps explain why the injury risk right now is someone who plays like a complete maniac: Oklahoma City guard Russell Westbrook.”

In 2015, Talukder and Vincent were able to compute the day-to-day probability that Chicago Bulls’ guard Derrick Rose would be injured.  With a predictive model that incorporated variables like distance run, player speed, points scored, and rebounds, the probability that Rose would be injured gradually escalated from low risk on February 7 to medium risk on February 20. Then, on February 21, 22, and 23, the risk profile elevated like a rocket…and indeed Rose was injured on February 23.

Such findings about human athletes should have relevance to training racehorses. For instance, the Jockey Club news release stated: “An analysis of 2015 race distance statistics shows that shorter races (less than 6 furlongs) were again associated with higher injury rates versus middle distance races (6 to 8 furlongs) and long races (more than 8 furlongs). This has been consistent each year over the seven-year span.”

A plausible explanation from the study of NBA players is that horses in shorter races most fit the description of running “like a complete maniac.” Perhaps injuries could be curbed if trainers gave sprinters more time between races and lighter workouts than horses that race at longer distances. At first glance, this seems counter-intuitive but makes sense in terms of “speed, usage, and overall workload.”

Empirical findings from the Jockey Club’s Equine Injury Database are invaluable in saving racehorses from fatalities. Analytic research from other sports suggest ideas for further experimentation. Trainers and veterinarians who understand the purpose and application of analytics can, working together, further reduce horse-racing fatalities.

Copyright © 2016 Horse Racing Business


Many of the people I have met over the years who like to handicap horse races have an affinity for mathematics and some are really good at it. They like the challenge of applying their skills to betting and getting into the mathematical weeds with speed figures and other esoterica.

In February, the National Museum of Mathematics in Manhattan held its annual MoMath Masters contest for charity. The first and third place overall winners were, respectively, a Carnegie Mellon math professor and a computer science professor from New York University. Second place went to a hedge fund analyst with a Ph. D. in computer science.

The Wall Street Journal published (March 5-6, 2016) five of the questions from the competition. Here are three for the math-oriented handicappers out there to wrestle with (answers are at the end of this blog post):

Question 1: Let m be the smallest positive integer such that m² +7m+89 is divisible by 77. What is m?

a. 8
b. 18
c. 52
d. 73
e. 74

Question 2: Which of the following must be true about the handshaking that occurred at a recent teachers’ convention?

a. The number of teachers who shook hands an odd number of times is even.
b. The number of teachers who shook hands an even number of times is odd.
c. The number of teachers who shook hands an odd number of times is odd.
d. The number of teachers who shook hands an even number of times is even.
e. The number of times teachers shook hands is odd.

Question 3: Who among the following received a scholarship to study Chemical Engineering with Mathematics at Northwestern University?

a. Heidi Klum
b. Kate Moss
c. Brooke Shields
d. Naomi Campbell
e. Cindy Crawford

If you are talented enough in math to figure out questions like numbers 1 and 2, you should have no trouble in making sense of all of the arcane statistics available to decipher what horse might win a race. Yet that will not necessarily lead you to a net profit. Some days you might be better off choosing the horses to bet on based on numerology or a horse’s name or color.

Answers: Question 1, B; Question 2, A; Question 3, E.

Click here for explanations of the answers, as well as to two more questions.

Horse Racing Business 2016


My view has always been that most states with racinos, and perhaps all, will sooner or later eliminate subsidies to horse-racing purses and breeding funds. While a strong factual argument can be made in a number of states that racinos are essential to significant equine agricultural and agribusiness enterprises, which would be eviscerated by decoupling casino business from horse racing, a more persuasive emotional case can be made on the opposite side.

Even though the United States is purportedly a free-market economy, one can easily find plenty of examples of government subsidies and crony capitalism (rather than entrepreneurial capitalism). For example, agricultural price supports, Ethanol, electric cars, and wind and solar energy development. Nonetheless, horse racing subsidies are more vulnerable for a couple of reasons.

First, though erroneous, the image often associated with horse racing is of wealthy folks pursuing a hobby when, in fact, horse racing is a cottage industry in which the preponderance of participants are not close to being affluent and many live hand to mouth.

Second, state governments are perennially strapped for cash and hedonistic activities like gambling are easy marks. Emotion will win out over logic almost every time in the forum of public opinion. Education and Medicaid should not be deprived, elected officials say, to support rich farmers.

The future of a horse racing industry without the largesse of gaming subsidies is not a pretty picture. For some time now, it has been evident that horse racing’s growing dependence on gaming can’t last and the former will sink or swim with pari-mutuel wagering.

Yet the vast majority of racetracks have refused to experiment and innovate with pari-mutuel wagering in order to make it competitive. Why? One plausible explanation is that racinos have a vested interest in decoupling gaming from horse racing and the fastest way to do so is to make the pari-mutuel product as unappealing as possible.

This is why I’ve repeatedly said that the bloodstock side of the horse-racing enterprise should launch or purchase an advance deposit wagering company, possibly via a coop, to do the necessary experimentation. But the window of opportunity is closing fast, as Florida and West Virginia have already taken preliminary steps to decouple horse racing from gaming, or to allow racetracks to eliminate horse racing and maintain gaming. Eventually, they are likely to succeed.

Copyright © 2016 Horse Racing Business