Archives for January 2020

WHY MARY HIRSCH BELONGS IN THE HALL OF FAME

A dictionary definition of a Hall of Fame is “an institution honoring the achievements of individuals in a particular activity of field.”  Or, “the class or category of those who have excelled in a particular activity or field.”   

Mary Hirsch (married surname McLennan), pioneering thoroughbred horse trainer, exemplifies the definition of Hall of Famer.  She initially “excelled” by persisting against powerful regulatory authorities in the 1930s, most notably the Jockey Club, to become the first female in the United States to be licensed to train racehorses; and then she excelled again by recording unique milestones with the horses in her care, notwithstanding most owners’ reluctance to place their horses with a woman trainer.

As of early 2020, the National Museum of Racing & Hall of Fame has inducted only one female trainer into the Hall of Fame, Janet Elliot, who is a superb trainer of steeplechasers.  Thus not a single female trainer of thoroughbreds who race on flat courses is in the Hall.

Mary Hirsch with Max Hirsch

The reasons why only one female trainer is in the Hall of Fame are twofold: the occupation in America has been overwhelmingly male dominated for some 355 years and regulatory bodies for the vast majority of this time barred women from obtaining licenses. Mary Hirsch boldly challenged the male-only policy and broke the proverbial glass ceiling for future generations of women trainers. 

Ms. Hirsch was the daughter of Hall of Fame trainer Max Hirsch and younger sister to Hall of Famer William “Buddy” Hirsch.”  After several years under her father’s tutelage, in 1933 she applied to the Jockey Club for a trainer’s license in New York.  Twenty-year-old Mary’s application was “tabled,” which was a euphemism for “denied.”

The resolute Ms. Hirsch persevered and, in 1934, she was licensed to train in Illinois and Michigan.  The Jockey Club in 1936 reversed its earlier decision and licensed her in New York.  By then, she was licensed to train virtually everywhere in the United States and Europe.

In addition to Mary Hirsch’s breakthrough of being the first licensed female thoroughbred trainer in America, she had other significant accomplishments. She was the first female to saddle a winner at Saratoga.  In 1937, she was the first female to saddle an entry (a gelding named No Sir) in the Kentucky Derby. And a year later, she sent out Thanksgiving to win the Travers. To this day, over 82 years later, she is still the only woman to have trained a winner of the esteemed Travers.

Ms. Hirsch trained for five years, 1935-1939, and her cumulative earnings were $104,285 (about $1.8 million today), representing 84 wins. Her best year was her first, when she won 29 races with earnings of $34,850.  These were exceptional earnings in the midst of the Great Depression and in an era well before large purses. 

Mary Hirsch ended her training career when she married Charles McLennan, a prominent racing official, in 1940. However, she continued to breed racehorses into the 1970s.

Mary Hirsch McLennan’s success, or even triumph, in overcoming institutional and cultural inequities for female trainers in the 1930’s world of American thoroughbred racing, coupled with the number of truly meritorious “firsts” she achieved, paved the way for all the women trainers who came afterwards.  Her induction into the Hall of Fame, as the pathfinder and archetype for female trainers of flat runners in the United States, is long overdue.

Copyright © 2020 Horse Racing Business

CHELTENHAM 2020 RACES

For reputations, racing honors and more than $5.9 million in prize money, the Cheltenham Festival will once again bring together most of the biggest names in European jump racing.  Set to take place from March 10-13, 2020, the event is already creating headlines as has been its tradition since 1860. Bettors are warming up for what could turn out to be the best moments of their lives and bookmakers are on the other side, ready to profit from the former’s losses.

For those who can make their way to the Cheltenham Festival to bear witness first hand, advance tickets are selling from $52 and up (until 10:59 a.m. on January 31).  Advance group tickets are also available and are priced from $49.  Last-minute gate tickets will retail from around $65.

Gates to the event will open at 10:30 a.m on March 10th to allow fans to settle in for the Supreme Novices’ Hurdle Race, which will kick-off the Festival. The race goes off at 1:30 p.m. and Abacadacras appears to be the favorite with odds of 4/1 at Betfair.  Fiddlerontheroof is another choice for the race having 8/1 odds at William Hill. 

Last year’s event saw some new races included in the program.  This year, there has been an addition of “The Park,” where continuous live music and entertainment will be provided each race day.  The fan-friendly venue will contain an assortment of bars showing the races live, and at 4:30 p.m. patrons can listen to a DJ set for 90 minutes.

Bettors trying to beat the bookies at their game, may be attracted to informative links like https://www.freebets.co.uk/cheltenham-festival-free-bets/.  Some of the latest offers in the market include free bets of up to $33 for every $13 placed at Boylesports.  With Bet365, a bettor can claim up to $131 by wagering on Cheltenham.  

With the excitement that the Cheltenham Festival brings, one would expect fans to applaud the possible expansion to a fifth day of racing.  However, this idea was not popular when the Festival’s new chairman discussed the idea on ITV.  A poll conducted on Twitter yielded lower than 20% votes of those in favor of adding a fifth day.  The main fear expressed was that the intensity of the Festival would be diluted as champions compete with inferior opponents brought in to fill races.

Over the years, there have been more odds-on favorites as a result of increasing the number of days of competition.  Fans’ concerns are therefore not misplaced as they can be backed by statistics.  For instance, in 60 races held in 2002 thru 2004, there were no odds-on favorites in 2002 and 2003 and only three in 2004, or 5% of all races.  By contrast, the last three years have produced 11 odds-on favorites over 84 races, a rate of about 13%.  

This tends to reduce the appeal of the Festival. The only way the negative effects of an additional day can be compensated for is by finding more talented and competitive horses. The opposition of the idea is thus not just resistance to change.

A REVEALING LOOK AT NO-LASIX RACING AND AMERICAN HORSES

The Pegasus World Cup Invitational and the World Cup Turf are to be run at Gulfstream Park in Hallandale, Florida, on January 25, 2020.  Both races will be run medication free, meaning no furosemide (Lasix).  Moreover, the purse for the Pegasus World Cup has been reduced from $9 million in 2019 to $3 million in 2020.  And the purse for the World Cup Turf was cut from $7 million to $1 million.

Besides the purse reductions making the races less attractive to owners, the inaugural Saudi Cup will be held on February 20, 2020, with a total purse of $20 million and $10 million going to the winner.  That makes it the globe’s richest race, surpassing the $12 million Dubai World Cup on March 28, 2020.  The Saudi World Cup will not permit horses to run with race-day medication. 

It will be informative to see how the no-Lasix requirement for The Pegasus World Cup Invitational and the Saudi Cup plays out.  Owners and trainers who send their horses to either race are not deterred by the medication ban, demonstrating that their horses don’t need Lasix.  However, other owners and trainers will be concerned and bypass both races as a result.

What will be informative is how many entries there are for both races and what big-name horses don’t race in either Florida or Saudi Arabia. Short fields for both races, or fields without the best American horses, could be a sign that the races cannibalized one another…or that the no-medication rule scared off some owners and trainers. 

The ideal scenario is full fields for both races, with plenty of American horses entered, demonstrating that Lasix is not really needed for most top-flight racehorses.

Copyright © 2020 Horse Racing Business