Archives for October 2017


Most people who own Thoroughbred racehorses are not motivated primarily by monetary gains, as there are far more dependable and profitable investments.  The sporting aspect of horse racing mainly attracts owners, the pursuit of having the fastest horse and the satisfaction that goes with winning.

These outcomes are infrequent if an owner’s horse races only occasionally.  And annual number-of-starts per horse in North America has been declining over the years, as demonstrated by The Jockey Club’s statistics:

1950  10.91
1960  11.31
1970  10.22
1980  9.21
1990  7.94
2000  7.10
2010  6.11
2016  6.20

If the criterion for ownership is on-track action, the advantage of owning Standardbred racehorses, trotters and pacers, over owning Thoroughbred racehorses is striking.  The average number of starts per year for a North American Standardbred is about 17 times, or every 21.5 days, compared to 6.2 starts and 58.9 days for Thoroughbreds.  Approximately three weeks vs. two months between races.

I went to a local harness racetrack recently and perused the program for number of starts.  As of early October 2017, entrants had routinely started in anywhere from 20 to 30 races in 2017.  In races for 2-year-olds, the number of starts was in the range of 12 to 20.

Why Standardbreds race so much more often than Thoroughbreds has several plausible explanations.  Trotters and pacers may genetically be a more durable breed; harness racing takes less out of a horse than flat racing; and injuries are less likely to occur in harness racing owing to synthetic track surfaces, the comparatively slower speeds in Standardbred races, and lack of weight on a horse’s back.

Racehorse owners gravitate to a breed—Thoroughbreds, Standardbreds, or Quarter Horses—out of a personal preference for a certain type of racing.  In Sweden, the distinction is even finer, with all trotters and no pacers.  If a prospective owner wants to see his or her horse run on a consistent basis with relatively short intervals between starts, Standardbreds are the hands-down choice.

Copyright © 2017 Horse Racing Business


The Horseplayers Association of North America (HANA) ranks U. S. and Canadian Thoroughbred racetracks on the basis of bettor-friendliness.  The criteria employed in HANA’s algorithm include such factors as the level of takeout on various kinds of bets, field size, handle, and signal distribution.

Keeneland in Lexington, Kentucky ranked first among all racetracks on HANA’s 2014 list and second in 2015 and 2016 (Kentucky Downs was first in 2015 and 2016).  Prior to its fall meet in 2017, Keeneland raised takeout on win, place, and show bets from 16% to 17.5%.  The track increased exotic wagers (except for the Pick5) from 19% to 22%.  As a result, Keeneland dropped to 13th place in HANA rankings and HANA members overwhelmingly voted to boycott the Keeneland October 2017 meet.  At a minimum, Keeneland’s image is tarnished, at least in the short term.

HANA president Jeff Platt wrote in part on the organization’s website:

“As a horseplayer I’ve decided to join the boycott at the Players Boycott website because I believe higher takeout is harmful to the long-term health of thoroughbred racing.  As a horseplayer I believe sitting on the sidelines is not an option for me because everybody in the industry is waiting to see how players react to this.  I believe that if a clear message isn’t sent: Not just Keeneland–but other tracks–will have takeout increases too.

When we boycotted Churchill [Downs] in 2014 because of their takeout increase: They were down a solid 25% outside of the Derby.  How much of that was the market speaking and how much came from us drawing attention to the takeout increase is hard to say. But we sent a pretty clear message.  I expect Keeneland Fall 2017 numbers to mirror Churchill 2014 numbers–and be down a similar 25% to 30%.  But that may not be a strong enough message.  I believe that by getting the message out to as many horseplayers as possible–we can knock Keeneland numbers down significantly.”

Keeneland would breakeven on its takeout-rate increase decision on win, place, and show bets if handle declines by exactly -8.57%.  A smaller decline than -8.57% will yield a profit and a larger decline than -8.57% will yield a loss.

On exotics, Keeneland would breakeven on its rate increase if handle falls by precisely -13.64%.  A drop in handle of less than -13.64% will result in a profit and a drop of more than -13.64% will record a loss.

Through the first three days of the Keeneland 2017 fall meet (October 7, 8, and 9), handle was down by 14.61% compared to 2016.  The next raceday, on October 11th, handle plunged 20% from 2016.  Thus the track so far is less profitable on wagering than it was a year ago in spite of the significant boosts in takeout rates on straight wagers and exotics.

Whether Keeneland’s decision to raise takeout rates on its customers proves to be profitable or a mistake won’t be determined at its October 2017 meet.  A clearer picture will emerge toward the end of Keeneland’s spring 2018 meet, after time has passed since the takeout-rate increases and boycotters have either stayed away or come back.

Copyright © 2017 Horse Racing Business


Racing horses can be an exciting sporting venture, particularly at the highest echelon.  In the past several years, the industry has endeavored mightily to address the unglamorous issue of aftercare for off-the-track horses, with multiple initiatives, such as The Jockey Club’s Thoroughbred Incentive Program and establishment of the Thoroughbred Aftercare Alliance.

Countless people with big hearts and dedication work behind the scenes to save and retrain former racehorses that might otherwise end up badly neglected or in a slaughterhouse.  Following are four exemplars.

Edward (Ned) and Cornelia (Nina) Bonnie own 540-acre Stonelea Farm in Prospect, Kentucky and have been active participants in equine sports like steeplechase racing, hunting/jumping competition, and foxhunting for more than 60 years.  An article titled “In High Regard” in the September 2017 Off-Track Thoroughbred Magazine said about Stonelea: “Nestled against Harrods Creek, the rolling property is an off-track Thoroughbred haven…”

The Bonnies have given numerous retired racehorses a home for life and have also demonstrated the suitability of former racehorses to sport-horse second careers or just as riding horses.  The Off-Track Thoroughbred article reports that over 20 Thoroughbreds are domiciled at Stonelea Farm, consisting of a mix of retirees, young horses bred by the Bonnies, and riding horses.  Even in their golden years, the Bonnies are still providing racehorses with a safe harbor to live out their days.

Unlike the Bonnies, the husband and wife team of Dallas and Donna Keen earn their livelihood from training racehorses.  Both are accomplished trainers with some big wins.

Apart from conditioning horses at multiple racetracks, the couple in 2008 founded and continue to operate the Remember Me Rescue in Burleson, Texas.  The organization’s website states its mission:

“The Remember Me Retired Racehorse Program was formed…to assist retired and injured racehorses after their careers at the track are over.  We accept, rehabilitate, and retrain ex-racehorses with the hopes of finding them new homes with responsible owners.”

The Keens not only “accept” former racehorses, but are proactive in going to auctions and rescuing animals from slaughter destinations.   Here is a couple who engage in the full-time–and then some–business of training racehorses across several states, yet who make the time to rescue horses at auction and devote considerable effort to operating Remember Me Rescue.  That’s “giving back” at its finest.

Copyright © 2017 Horse Racing Business