Archives for September 2021


The Longines Breeders’ Cup Classic on November 6, 2021 at Del Mar is shaping up as a very competitive race.  The two likely favorites, Essential Quality and Knicks Go, have the same trainer, Brad Cox, although have different owners.  Following are the major contenders a little over five weeks from the race.

Essential Quality, owned by Godolphin, has won eight of nine races, with his only blemish coming in the 2021 Kentucky Derby in which he ran fourth after having a wide trip from post position 14.  He has earned $4.2 million.  His most notable wins were the 2020 Breeders’ Cup Juvenile, the Belmont, Jim Dandy, and Travers in 2021.

Knicks Go, stablemate to Essential Quality, has earned $5.4 million from 22 starts, with eight wins, three seconds, and a third.  Owned by Korean Racing Authority, the 5-year-old won the 2020 Breeders’ Cup (dirt) Mile, the 2021 Whitney, and holds the Keeneland record for 1 1/16 miles on dirt.

Maxfield is a 4-year old owned by Godolphin, with earnings of $1.5 million from nine starts.  His record is seven wins, a place, and a show.  As a 2-year-old, he won a Grade 1 sprint.  Injury kept him out of the 2019 Breeders’ Cup Juvenile and the 2020 Kentucky Derby.  Since his return to racing, he has won several Grade 2 and Grade 3 races.

Hot Rod Charlie most recently won the Grade 1 Pennsylvania Derby.  In that race, he survived not being disqualified after a bumping incident with Midnight Bourbon.  In August, Hot Rod Charlie was disqualified from his win in the Haskell for an incident that unseated Midnight Bourbon’s jockey. Hot Rod Charlie was second to Essential Quality in the 2020 Breeders’ Cup Juvenile, third in the 2021 Kentucky Derby, and second in the Belmont.  His record is three wins, two seconds, and a third in eleven starts.  His trainer, Doug O’Neill, said that he will put blinkers on the colt to try to correct his habit of not running in a straight line.

Medina Spirit won the 2021 Kentucky Derby, was third in the Preakness, and second in the Santa Anita Derby.  He tested positive for a banned substance in the Kentucky Derby and, once legal proceedings are finished, will likely be disqualified.  Overall, he has a record of four wins, three seconds, and a third from eight starts, with earnings of $2.4 million (subject to change, depending on the conclusive Kentucky Derby ruling.)  At this writing, the Breeders’ Cup board is determining whether to permit Medina Spirit’s trainer, Bob Baffert, to run horses in the upcoming Breeders’ Cup, so whether Medina Spirit will be entered is presently unknown. (If Baffert is banned, the colt could conceivably be moved to another trainer and run.)

Max Player won the 2021 Jockey Club Gold Cup and the Suburban.  Owned by George Hall, he has a record of four wins, a second, and two thirds from eleven starts and earnings of $1.3 million.

Midnight Bourbon has been very competitive in 2021.  After finishing sixth in the Kentucky Derby, he was second in the Preakness and second in the Travers.  He might have won the Haskell had not his jockey been unseated by clipping heels with Hot Rod Charlie.  Midnight Bourbon has earned $1.1 million from two wins, three seconds, and three thirds in twelve starts.

The Breeders’ Cup Classic winner could come from a long-shot contender like King Fury or a European entrant.  At the moment, however, trainer Brad Cox holds the strongest hand with Essential Quality and Knicks Go.

Copyright © 2021 Horse Racing Business


Incredibly, a multi-billion dollar sport/industry is tarnished by 21 picograms of a legal medication. To borrow the words of tennis icon John McEnroe, “You cannot be serious!”

When news of Medina Spirit’s drug positive in the 2021 Kentucky Derby broke, the national media understandably reported the story as a sensational scandal.  Horse racing’s most prominent trainer had won the race with a colt running on illicit medication.

Predictably, PETA immediately put out accusatory releases and major organizations in horse racing abandoned due process in their rush to condemn and punish Robert Baffert, Medina Spirit’s trainer.  He was banned by both Churchill Downs Inc. and the New York Racing Association (the NYRA ruling stayed by a New York judge).  And, at this writing, the Breeders’ Cup board is considering whether it will allow Baffert to participate in the upcoming Breeders’ Cup World Championships. 

The sordid episode is far from over. After legal proceedings play out, very public recriminations will resurface regardless of whether Medina Spirit is or is not disqualified. It is a “no win” outcome for horse racing’s image.

In my view, the sport and industry of horse racing has needlessly brought a litany of negative attention onto itself.  After reading a review in the New York Post of a new book by Josiah Hesse titled Runner’s High, I am even more convinced of that. The review is by Gavin Newsham and is titled “Why more athletes are depending on cannabis.”

According to Hesse, professional athletes who spoke to him on the record estimate that 85% of NBA players, 90% of NFL players, and 50% of NHL players use cannabis to manage pain or stress.  Consider the following three paragraphs from the New York Post article within the context of the imbroglio over an inconsequential 21 picograms of the anti-inflammatory drug betamethasone in Medina Spirit’s system on Kentucky Derby Day.

“In May 2013, WADA [World Anti-Doping Authority] raised the threshold for cannabis in an athlete’s system tenfold, from 15 nanograms to 150 nanograms, allowing athletes to partake during training, safe in the knowledge they can easily get down to the required level once competition starts. In 2018, they also removed CBD from their list of prohibited substances — in or out of competition. 

The NFL also recently raised the acceptable limit of THC in a player’s system from 35 nanograms to 150 and will no longer suspend players for a positive cannabis test. In June, they announced a new commission, alongside the league’s players union, with an award of up to $1 million in grants for researchers to look into the therapeutic potential of marijuana, CBD and other alternatives to opioids for treating pain. 

In 2019, Major League Baseball removed cannabis from its list of prohibited substances following pressure from their players union (although the league still bans players from being high during a game or being sponsored by a cannabis company). And, in 2020, the NBA suspended random testing of players for cannabis.”

Had the Kentucky Horse Racing Commission established acceptable and reasonable limits for humane medications on raceday—similar to WADA and the major professional sports leagues for cannabis—the highly detrimental PR damage emanating from America’s premier horse race would have been avoided.

While the entire horse racing enterprise isn’t to blame for antiquated drug rules and blundering by a few, the whole industry is paying a steep price in the market of public opinion.

Click here to access the NY Post book review of Runner’s High.

Copyright © 2021 Horse Racing Business


NFL football is in full swing and fantasy leagues are immensely popular as well.  A niche sport like horse racing will never achieve the following of this mainstream sport, but it may be possible to expand racing’s fan base through digital versions. Especially among younger people, who are so immersed in virtual realities.

The Wall Street Journal recently ran a column on a startup called Zed Run.  The article says:

“Virtually Human Studio, the startup behind digital horse racing service Zed Run, has raised $20 million in financing, highlighting investors’ appetite for companies exploring the intersection of entertainment, gaming and the so-called nonfungible token sector.

Media and technology-focused investment firm TCG Capital Management led the Series A funding round, with Andreessen Horowitz and Red Beard Ventures also participating in the deal.

Launched in 2019, Zed Run enables users to buy, sell and breed virtual horses and race them in a videogame style setting against other horses. The horses are purchased with digital currency and act as NFTs, which are essentially digital collectibles that hold value.”

Click here to access the full Wall Street Journal article or click here to go to Zed Run.

Another digital venture is StableDuel.  Its website states:

“StableDuel will be the center of innovation for horseracing entertainment, focused on developing and growing a dedicated fanbase with a commitment to simplicity, approachability, and continuous improvement.  By the players.  For the players.”

Patrons of StableDuel bet on horses and compete for a variety of prizes, ranging from what the site calls Silver Club rewards to VIP rewards, five categories in total.

I don’t know the amount of money that was put up to start StableDuel, but the $20 million in venture capital for Zed Run demonstrates confidence that digital horse racing can gain traction.  My personal view is wait and see. No doubt Zed Run and StableDuel are commendable efforts to make horse racing more popular. I just don’t know to what extent digital games will boost pari-mutuel wagering.

 Horse Racing Business 2021