Archives for January 2021


Recently, I read about the current societal controversy over biological males being allowed to compete against biological females in organized athletic events.  The irrefutable statistics cited–pertaining to documented performance records of male and female athletes–got me thinking about how and why top-tier female racehorses are better able to compete with males than are their human counterparts.

Consider the following facts about human athletes:

In 2018, 275 high school boys bested the world-record time (for a female) of Allyson Felix in the 400-meter sprint.

In 2017, thousands of men ran 400 meters faster than any of the world’s three fastest female Olympic champions. 

In all, male athletes routinely attain performance records that are 10% to 20% better than comparably trained women athletes.  The percentages are even greater in endurance and strength events.

Now consider racehorses:

As a rule of thumb, the vast majority of male racehorses are faster than the preponderance of fillies and mares.  But, historically, many of the very best fillies and mares have convincingly demonstrated that they can compete with the very best colts and stallions/geldings, even at endurance distances of 1 1/4 and 1 ½ miles.

Indeed, top-level fillies and mares can be quite competitive in Grade 1 and Group 1 open races.  For example, the filly Swiss Skydiver won the 2020 Preakness Stakes, defeating Authentic, who won the Kentucky Derby, Breeders’ Cup Classic, and Horse of the Year.  Many examples abound: Zenyatta, Found, Tarnawa, Treve, Enable, Winning Colors, Goldikova, Peebles…

Why is it that several hundred teenage boy high-school track stars can turn in times that exceed the world-record mark for a female athlete at 400 meters (and in other events as well), while top-flight female racehorses can win in open company in Grade 1 and Group 1 races?

I don’t have a solid data-based answer for this question.  My working hypothesis is that generation-after-generation of selective breeding occasionally produces a super filly with the ability to win against top-caliber male racehorses.  Another thought is that certain European trainers are very skilled in preparing such gifted female animals to compete with their male counterparts on turf.

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Nominations for the 2020 Eclipse Award for outstanding trainer come down to three accomplished individuals, two of them multiple previous winners and a newcomer.  Bob Baffert won this award in 1997, 1998, 1999, and 2015.  Steve Asmussen won in 2008 and 2009.  Up-and-coming Brad Cox is the other candidate. 

Todd Pletcher remains the all-time leader in Eclipse trainer awards with seven, followed by the late Bobby Frankel with five.  Chad Brown has four awards, encompassing 2016-2019, and D. Wayne Lukas and the late Laz Barrera also have four.

Voters for the Eclipse Award for best trainer are basically left to establish their own criteria for making the selection, as there are no specifics to go by. As a result, some voters may, for example, believe that either Baffert or Asmusssen deserves the award, but still opt to vote for Cox on the basis that he is much younger and has never won.  Other voters may feel that the most deserving trainer should be recognized irrespective of whether he has won in the past.

Certainly, all three candidates had meritorious records in 2020 or they would not have been nominated.  Thus a voter could make a strong case for any of them.  With that said, my personal opinion is that Bob Baffert should receive the nod for his work with Authentic in winning the Kentucky Derby and Breeders’ Cup Classic, plus narrowly losing the Preakness.

Moreover, the “Authentic effect” should net John Velazquez the award for outstanding jockey and Authentic Horse of the Year.  It took a highly skilled veteran like Velazquez to win 1 ¼ races like the Kentucky Derby and Breeders’ Cup Classic with a colt that was best suited to slightly shorter distances, especially with front-running tactics.

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Andy Serling, a television handicapper for the New York Racing Association, recently opined (on At the Races with Steve Byk) that people whose job it is to recommend horses to bet on should have skin in the game.  That is, they should risk their own money on their picks.  What percentage of the on-air hosts at the various racetracks and at TVG do so is unknown, but the guess here is that the percentage is very small.

Is Mr. Serling correct?  I believe he is, with one modification: analysts should at least reveal to viewers if they have backed each and every pick with a bet.

On Cable television shows like Fox Business or CNBC, whenever guest analysts appear to discuss and recommend stocks to buy, a graphic is often shown to viewers depicting whether the analyst or a member of his/her family own a stock being endorsed.  If the analyst does not own a position, the obvious question is why not?  If he or she does have an ownership stake, this signals confidence in the pick or, alternatively, that the analyst may be hyping the stock to run up its price.  If an analyst’s ownership position is not revealed at all, his or her recommendation is manifestly not as credible.

Before purchasing a company’s stock, a skilled investor knows to access publicly available information pertaining to how many shares of the company’s stock insiders hold.  A large ownership stake by executives and board members is a favorable finding whereas token ownership or selling signals caution.  Recent purchasing activity by insiders is another indicator of the confidence they have in the company’s future.

Over time, a horse bettor following the picks of a TV analyst can judge the analyst’s skill.  But it would be informative if the analyst were to let viewers know whether he or she personally has backed a horse and even for how much money.

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