Archives for August 2020


Linda Rice is arguably the best female racehorse trainer in the United States.  Until recently, she trained the 3-year-old colt Max Player.  After Max Player finished third in the 2020 Travers, his owners, George Hall and SportBLX, moved the colt from Ms. Rice’s barn to Steve Asmussen’s stable.  Mr. Hall said that Ms. Rice had done a “spectacular job” with Max Player, but wanted a trainer with “experience and infrastructure at Churchill” to prep the colt for the Kentucky Derby on September 5.

Regardless of how accustomed and hardened a trainer becomes to the vagaries of dealing with owners, episodes like this one have to hurt psychologically, even if owners’ reasons for moving their horses make sense.  However, in sports, incidents of coaches and managers (and horse trainers) being terminated are so commonplace that they are taken for granted by the media and public. 

In the National Football League, for example, some of the most successful head coaches of all time were fired at least once in their careers, including George Allen, Paul Brown, Bill Belichick, Tony Dungy, Jimmy Johnson, Tom Landry, and Mike Shanahan.  A similar list could be comprised in any major sport. 

It should be of some consolation to an accomplished horse trainer like Ms. Rice that plausibly the greatest coach in NFL history, Bill Belichick, was fired.  On the other hand, from a horse owner’s perspective, it is instructive to reflect on the fact that, since 1969, the storied Pittsburgh Steelers have won six Super Bowls and had only three head coaches. Sticking with competent individuals in good and bad times is a path to enduring success.

Linda Rice handled the transfer of Max Player with aplomb and class by tweeting “We are disappointed to see him go, but we wish George Hall and SportBLX the best of luck.” 

Here’s wishing Linda “best of luck” in eventually winning the Kentucky Derby.

Copyright © 2020 Horse Racing Business


Churchill Downs Inc. and Penn National Gaming are the two biggest publicly traded companies in the United States owning horse-racing tracks, using stock-market capitalization as the criterion.  Both own a large portfolio of regional casinos in the United States.

According to recent stock prices, the market capitalization for Churchill Downs Inc. is approximately $6.9 billion and the value of Penn National Gaming is about $7.2 billion.  How do these figures compare to the ten most valuable sports teams around the globe? 

Following are recent estimates from Forbes magazine of the most valuable sports franchises in the world.  The numbers in parentheses designate how much the current owners paid for their franchises.

Dallas Cowboys $5.5 billion ($150 million)
New York Yankees $5 billion ($8.8 million)
New York Knicks $4.6 billion ($300 million)
Los Angeles Lakers $4.4 billion ($268 million)
Golden State Warriors $4.3 billion ($450 million)
Real Madrid $4.3 billion (not available)
New England Patriots $4.1 billion ($172 million)
Barcelona $4.02 billion (not available)
New York Giants $3.9 billion ($500 million)
Manchester United $3.81 billion ($1.4 billion)

When the pandemic began to take a toll in March 2020, forcing most casinos and racetracks to close, Churchill Downs stock plunged to a low of $52.90 per share, giving it a market capitalization of $2.1 billion.  Similarly, Penn National Gaming stock ebbed at $3.75 per share, with an imputed market capitalization of $516 million.  Since then, the stock prices of both companies have soared, making them more valuable than any sports franchise…at least temporarily.

Copyright © 2020 Horse Racing Business


No racehorse enterprise has dominated the Kentucky Derby like Calumet Farm in its heyday. Its record of owning eight winners of the race and breeding a ninth is unlikely to ever be approached.  In the 1930s, ’40s, and ’50s, Calumet was the racing equivalent of the New York Yankees of that era.

William Monroe Wright, who made his fortune with Calumet Baking Powder, started Calumet Farm in 1924, breeding and racing Standardbreds.  When he died in 1932, his son Warren Wright Sr. inherited the farm and switched from Standardbreds to Thoroughbreds…and the devil’s red and blue silks that would become so famous appeared for the first time.

In 1939, Warren Wright fortuitously hired Ben A. Jones as his head trainer with Jimmy Jones assisting his father.

Following are the eight Kentucky Derby winners bred and owned by Calumet Farm

1941 Whirlaway
1944 Pensive
1948 Citation
1949 Ponder
1952 Hill Gail
1957 Iron Liege
1958 Tim Tam
1968 Forward Pass

In addition to these eight, Calumet bred 1991 Derby winner Strike the God.  1968 winner Forward Pass, the only colt of the eight not trained by Ben or Jimmy Jones, finished second in the Derby but was elevated to first place when Dancer’s Image was disqualified over a medication violation.  (Henry Forrest trained Forward Pass.)

Lucille Wright Markey owned Calumet Farm after Warren Wright Sr. passed away until her own death in 1982.  The closest Calumet came to winning another Kentucky Derby was with Alydar in 1978, who finished second in all three Triple Crown races to Affirmed.

After his racing career, Alydar went to stud at Calumet and died under suspicious circumstances in an alleged stall accident in late 1990.  This incident and the mismanagement, fraud, and subsequent downfall and sale of Calumet Farm became the subject of Ann Hagedorn Auerbach’s book Wild Ride.

Copyright © 2020 Horse Racing Business