Archives for May 2016


The (Investec) Epsom Derby, also known as the English Derby, is the middle jewel of the English Triple Crown.  The 2016 running is Saturday, June 4 at 16:30 PM BST (11:30 AM EST in the USA).

Epsom Downs, the site where the race is run, bills it as “the greatest flat race in the world.”  While this claim is debatable, the English Derby is 95 years older than the Kentucky Derby and is steeped in colorful history.

The inaugural English Derby was run on May 4, 1780.  Oral history has it that the 12th Earl of Derby and Jockey Club president Sir Charles Bunbury used a coin spin to decide whether the name of the race would be the Derby Stakes or the Bunbury Stakes.  Had Bunbury won, we would likely be referring today to the English Bunbury and the Kentucky Bunbury.  Bunbury’s consolation prize was that his colt Diomed won the first English Derby at a mile.  In 1784, the distance was expanded to 1 ½ miles where it remains today.

The English Derby in its early days was a venue where people from all walks of life gathered.  The aristocrats were there along with the hoi polloi.  Gamblers played various games of chance and bare-knuckle fighters participated in illegal matches on the racecourse grounds.

The Derby has seen everything from dead heats to suffragette Emily Davison running onto the track during the race in the 1913 Derby.  She grabbed the bridle of King George V’s Anmer, who went down but hurdled into Davison in the process.  Several days later, Davison died of her injuries, and became an inspiration to women seeking the right to vote.

Some of the greatest horses, jockeys, and trainers have won the English Derby.  Lester Piggott stands out among jockeys with an incredible nine wins and Aidan O’Brien trained three consecutive winners (2012-2014).  For sheer tragedy, there is Shergar, the 1981 winner.  He was kidnapped from his stable in County Kildare, Ireland, reportedly by members of the Irish Republican Army for ransom, who ended up killing him.

The Epsom Derby is an elegant event, run over a verdant turf on a left-handed and undulating racecourse that held its first race in 1661.  It is the place where Sea Bird, Nijinsky, Mill Reef, Galileo, and other champions gained everlasting fame.  The 2016 winning owner will receive the trophy from Queen Elizabeth II and join a long and illustrious list.

The co-favorites in the 18-horse field are the Aidan O’Brien-trained US Army Ranger and the John Gosden-trained Wings of Desire at about 4/1 or 7/2 odds.  Next come Cloth of Stars and Ulysses at 7/1.  If you like longshots, you might want to bet on Humphrey Bogart.

Copyright © 2016 Horse Racing Business


Using Grade I wins and victories in the Classics as the measure of attainment, Team Valor International is the most successful U. S. enterprise ever in the business of horse-racing partnerships.  Its record of achievement includes such stellar races as the Arlington Million, the Dubai World Cup, the Kentucky Derby, and the Santa Anita Derby.  The entrepreneur behind it is Barry Irwin, who has written a book titled Derby Innovator that takes the reader inside the ups and downs of Irwin and his horses.

Irwin grew up in Beverlywood, California, on the west side of Los Angeles, in a non-horse family.  Irwin says he “had been interested in horse racing from the time I could walk.”  His parents, who “shunned” the sport, would surely have been chagrined had they known that their 14-year old son was selling racing tip sheets on a street corner in 1957.

The adolescent Irwin became enamored with the Thoroughbred stars of the day, and in particular his all-time favorite Swaps (he published a 2002 biography of the 1955 Kentucky Derby winner).  As a high school student, Irwin was a competitive athlete in track and field, where he specialized in the high jump, a sport he shared a love for with his father, who died of a heart attack at age 41.

Irwin’s winding life journey has brought him into contact with a potpourri of colorful characters that horse racing is so well known for.  Irwin went from down-on-his-luck broke to seeing Team Valor horses in the winner’s circle for Grade I events in Louisville, Dubai, Hong Kong and other venues where only the best compete for money and acclaim.  (The only quibble I have with the book is that I would have found an index useful so I could readily reference the many humans and equines mentioned.)

Irwin’s early involvement with racing included stints as a writer, editor, columnist, and TV/radio host.  He eventually decided, however, that he wanted to shift his efforts from writing and talking about horse racing to becoming a participant instead.

If I had to describe Irwin’s overriding approach to writing this book, in a word, it would be “candor.”  He conveys his unvarnished impressions of people, both living and dead, who he has come across or done business with.   Some of the subjects would undoubtedly strenuously disagree with how Irwin portrays them–e.g., con man, disingenuous, and liar–but the reader is left with no uncertainty in regards to how he feels about them or their actions.

While Irwin’s forthrightness has sometimes not been well received, he views his blunt talk as a personal code of conduct.  To illustrate, he states that the “most meaningful” congratulatory note he received following Animal Kingdom’s win in the 2011 Kentucky Derby came from a Kentucky farm owner, who wrote:  “You have never worried about what others think, and I admire your independence…”

The old sports metaphor about chicken and feathers is an apt description of what it is like to be actively involved in horse racing.  Some days the reward is chicken and many days it is feathers.  Irwin reminisces about the chicken and feathers times in his life and the triumphs and travails of Team Valor International.  If you are an aficionado of horse racing–and appreciate underdogs becoming top dogs–you should enjoy this easily readable tale of improbable rise from college dropout to the apex of the sport.

Copyright © 2016 Horse Racing Business


The following May 24, 2016, media release by Canterbury Park is very encouraging.


Shakopee, Minn. — Wagering on Canterbury Park’s opening weekend races increased by 31 percent compared to 2015, racetrack officials announced today.  The increase is largely attributed to the Shakopee, Minn. racetrack reducing its takeout, the amount withheld from each wager, to the lowest level in the U.S.

Canterbury conducted 25 races Friday through Sunday, handling a total of $2,024,819 in bets, $478,057 more than the same opening weekend in 2015.  The per-race average grew 26 percent to $80,992.

“We are pleased with the increase in wagering on our opening weekend,” Canterbury Park President Randy Sampson said.  “The takeout reduction, and the positive industry reaction it produced, introduced many new horse players to the Canterbury Park product this weekend.  We expect more players nationally will discover the great value and improved quality Canterbury racing has to offer as the meet continues.”

Wagering on track was up 25 percent and wagers from sources outside of Canterbury increased by 34 percent.  In April, Canterbury officials announced a reduction in takeout to 15 percent on win, place, and show wagers and 18 percent on all multi-horse wagers.  The announcement was met with widespread approval from horse players around the country.

“We anticipated our out-of-state handle would increase significantly and the results of opening weekend were right in line with our expectations,” Sampson said.   “We are also very encouraged by the significant increases in on-track attendance and handle as perfect weather and the takeout reduction combined to make for a very successful opening weekend for on-track business.”

“The support of horsemen showed at the entry box as well, with more than 200 horses entered in the 25 races,” Sampson said.  “With many horses yet to arrive and young horses still getting ready to race, I would expect our horses per race to increase as the meet progresses and we again will have average field size exceed the national average.”