Archives for January 2017


Recently, Steve Byk, on his SiriusXM show “At the Races” had a thought-provoking discussion with Blood-Horse writer Steve Haskin pertaining to the difficulty of regulators staying ahead of unscrupulous horse trainers who administer performance-enhancing drugs to their animals.  Haskin pointed out that new and exotic PEDS can go undetected by existing tests administered by the laboratories hired by state racing commissions.  He also said that this is not a recent phenomenon, but rather, has been true throughout horse racing history.

Byk and Haskin were in agreement that if laboratories were to freeze post-race samples taken from racehorses (and widely publicize it) that preservation would be a deterrent to trainers thinking about utilizing a new PED that labs currently don’t test for.  While a test might not exist today to detect a certain PED, it may exist in the future and the frozen samples could be tested accordingly.

The International Olympic Committee in January 2017 provided a prime example of such delayed detection and sanctions via results from its renewed anti-doping tests.  The IOC retested urine samples from the 2008 Olympics and discovered that sprinter Nesta Carter helped Jamaica win the 4 x 100 relay while on the prohibited substance methylhexaneamine.  As a result, approaching nine years after the fact, the IOC disqualified all members of the Jamaican relay team and stripped them of their gold medals.

Byk and Haskin are correct that scientific advancements can be and are used to retroactively administer justice.  Notably, DNA innovations have served to exonerate convicts on death row for crimes committed years before the science of DNA was perfected.  Conversely, people have been convicted for crimes from years ago, using modern DNA techniques.

I don’t know whether State Racing Commissions could afford the costs of storing and testing a massive number of samples from so many past races.  Even if they could, imagine a scenario in which improved laboratory tests found that a winner of the Kentucky Derby or Breeders’ Cup Classic from 15 or 20 years ago ran on a PED that was undetectable with the drug-testing techniques of the time.  I suspect a statute of limitations provision would come into play.  If not, some fortunate attorneys would surely get a lot of business litigating the case.

Copyright © 2017 Horse Racing Business


The inaugural $12 million Pegasus World Cup Invitational will be held at Gulfstream Park on January 28, 2017.  In May, 2016, twelve places or slots in the starting gate were rapidly sold for $1 million each.  The purchasers were permitted to sell their slots or to fill them with a horse of their choice.  For example, one original purchaser, Coolmore Stud, sold its place to the owner of 2016 Breeders’ Cup Classic winner Arrogate and another slot owner, James McIngvale, bought a horse specifically to run in the race.

The Pegasus World Cup is the idea of Frank Stronach, an eminently successful Canadian entrepreneur both outride of the horse racing industry and within it.  His path from his native Austria to Canada is a legendary Horatio Alger rags-to-riches story.  Stronach owns Gulfstream Park and intends to run his Shaman Ghost in the Pegasus World Cup.

The Pegasus World Cup owners, as a group, are represented by entrepreneurs from diverse ventures, folks who are used to taking calculated risks and have experienced the emotional highs and lows of doing so.  The owners of 10 racehorses entered in the Pegasus World Cup are game to go even though California Chrome and Arrogate are the prohibitive favorites.

The Pegasus World Cup depicts “animal spirits” in action, an enduring term coined by famous economist and author John Maynard Keynes in a 1936 classic book to describe the human emotions that drive people to action, to buy goods and services, to start businesses, to take risks.  George Akerlof and Robert Shiller, Nobel laureates in economics, in 2009 published a widely acclaimed book on “animal spirits” that explained “how human psychology drives the economy.”

Animal spirits has “driven” the owners of 12 racehorses to put up $1 million each to see who has the best horse.  This intangible spirit is what has drawn people to horse racing since its inception.  When someone contemplates why a rational businessperson becomes a racehorse owner in spite of what a bad business investment it normally is—the answer is simple:  animal spirits are at work.

That is the allure of racing, from the leaky roof circuit to the Pegasus World Cup.

Copyright © 2017 Horse Racing Business


A recent article got me thinking about the scientific approach that has evolved pertaining to the breeding and selection of racehorses, from statistical mining for nicks to biomechanics and cardiovascular analysis. Yet, in spite of the putative science, Thoroughbred racehorses have generally not gotten any faster than their ancestors of 40, 50, or more years ago, with the possible exception of sprints, and have regressed when it comes to endurance.  Moreover, contemporary racehorses may not be as durable as their ancestors, using number of career starts as the criterion.

I thought about this seeming lack of progress while reading “Why chickens are twice as big today as they were 60 years ago.”  Following are a few excerpts:

  • “Chickens we eat today are twice as big as they were 60 years ago.  In 1955, the average weight of chickens sold on market was 3.07 pounds, while the number for the first half of 2016 was 6.18 pounds…
  • The trend started with the 1948 contest that invited farmers nationwide to develop the “Chicken of Tomorrow” with specific goals — bigger, meatier, faster growth.  As a result, Arbor Acre breed, the crossbreed of the two winners, has become the grandparents of most commercial meat chicken we eat today worldwide.
  • The time it took to grow a newly-hatched chicken for market has been cut half since the 1990s to only less than 7 weeks from 16 weeks in 1925…And it only takes less than half feed to get the same amount of meat.
  • There were massive genetic differences as a result of selective breeding by raising chicken breeds from different eras under exact same conditions, a 2014 study by researchers at the University of Alberta, Canada, observed.  The result was stunning:  At the same age, the 2005 breed had grown to about four times as heavy as the 1957 breed, despite being fed the same food.”

Why have chickens advanced so dramatically genetically and not racehorses?  I am not a geneticist and can’t provide a scientifically-based answer.  My layman’s guess is twofold:

First, the quest to breed faster racehorses is impeded by The Jockey Club’s policy that horses cannot be registered unless they are conceived by a registered TB stallion covering a registered TB mare.  This precludes genetic engineering and experimental outcrossing with other horse breeds, at least if the owner wants to register the foal.

Second, Thoroughbred racehorses have been selectively bred for speed and endurance for over 300 years (since the days of the breed’s three foundation sires) and may have reached their genetic limits earlier than chickens that began to be selectively bred beginning about 1948.

The fact that racehorses are no faster now than a half century or more in the past matters little in terms of having competitive races.  Where genetic engineering and outcrossing for hybrid vigor could possibly help is in breeding more durable and sounder horses less susceptible to breakdowns.

Copyright © 2017 Horse Racing Business

Click here for the article “Why chickens are twice as big today as they were 60 years ago.”