Archives for December 2021


The Commonwealth of Kentucky borders seven states and sports betting is legal in six of them.  (Ohio recently legalized sports betting, which will be operational in mid-to-late 2022.) Missouri is the only state adjacent to Kentucky that has not authorized sports betting, but its legislature is considering doing so. 

Kentucky’s population is about 4,468,000 million people.  The Greater Louisville area accounts for 28.4% of the total, or 1,268,993 million people.  Northern Kentucky (Boone, Campbell, and Kenton Counties) has a population of 390,736, which is 8.7% of the aggregate Kentucky population.  Louisville is a short drive across the Ohio River to Indiana, where there are a couple of locations that offer sports betting.  Similarly, once Ohio’s sports betting is up and running, Northern Kentucky residents will be able to wager by crossing the Ohio River into Cincinnati (Cincinnati is about 15 miles from the Indiana border).

So, in 2022, 37% of Kentucky’s population residing in Greater Louisville and Northern Kentucky will have easy access to sports betting. In addition, Kentucky residents who live near the borders of Illinois, Tennessee, Virginia, and West Virginia already can conveniently and legally bet on sports.

Regardless of whether Kentucky legislators are attempting to protect their constituents from gambling excesses or trying to shield the horse-racing industry from competition, the effort is largely ineffective.  The fact is, between residents crossing state borders to bet on sports, or doing so illegally online, neither Kentucky citizens nor the racing enterprise is being helped.  All that is being achieved is that tax revenue from sports-betting is being collected by six states bordering Kentucky instead of keeping it at home.  That’s a great deal for the six states but certainly not for Kentucky.

A strong case can be made that Kentucky’s racetracks would benefit from increased traffic that sports betting would foster.  Churchill Downs and Turfway Park in the most heavily populated regions of Kentucky are at a huge competitive disadvantage with nearby casinos in Indiana and Ohio. Ellis Park and Kentucky Downs are also located near state borders.

Copyright © 2021 Horse Racing Business


I went out to dinner several weeks ago only to find the chain-owned restaurant had posted a note on its front door that it was temporarily closing at 4:30 p.m. due to lack of staff.  Similarly, the Starbucks in my town is open on a variable schedule because it can’t always find enough employees to operate even the drive-through.  The local McDonald’s has not opened its inside facilities since March of 2020, doing business only through its drive-through.

The United States currently has more job openings than it does people seeking work.  An estimated 9-plus million jobs are going unfilled in spite of employers offering sign-on bonuses and elevated wages. The labor crunch is so severe that some of the nation’s largest hospital systems have dropped Covid-19 vaccination mandates for healthcare employees.

This situation got me thinking about backstretch workers.  These folks put in long hours, sometimes seven days a week, the working conditions and compensation are often not attractive, and they deal with possible injury inflicted by the horses they care for.  With the overall American job market so in favor of employees vis-à-vis employers, backstretch workers have other options.

One of my favorite television programs is America at Work on Fox Cable with Mike Rowe.  The weekly 1-hour show delves into the work of people who literally keep America running.  The programs have, for instance, featured hands-on employees in waste management, fracking, and logging. While white-collar workers in software programming, management, law, medicine, and other such positions provide invaluable services, without the unsung people featured on America at Work, day-to-day life would falter.

The same can be said of backstretch employees and the life of a racetrack. Horse trainers, jockeys, and owners are in the public eye, but the grooms, hot walkers, and exercise riders keep the railroad running. The Sunday morning after Alysheba won the 1988 Kentucky Derby, his trainer, Jack Van Berg, said that he had to clean stalls, evidently the result of his caretaker staff celebrating too much the night before–a short trip for Van Berg from the penthouse to the outhouse.

With the number of job openings in the United States exceeding the number of job seekers, it is likely that trainers are having to compete to keep employees as never before.  Training day rates will have to rise with soaring prices and wage inflation.  Further, it has never been easy to find people who are able and willing to take care of racehorses six or seven days a week.

Copyright © 2021 Horse Racing Business


Eight days after winning the 1984 Belmont Stakes, Claiborne Farm’s Kentucky Derby winner Swale appeared to be as fit as fit can be.  But on his way back to his stall after a morning bath, he dropped over dead from what pathologists determined was heart failure.  A little over thirty-seven years later, on December 6, 2021, another Kentucky Derby winner, Medina Spirit, wobbled and then fell dead during a workout, likely struck down by the same cause as Swale (a necropsy is being conducted).

Sudden cardiac death (SCD) research in human athletes offers valuable insights into understanding SCD in equine athletes.

Global News on June 27, 2021 asked “Why Do Super-Fit Young Athletes Suffer Sudden Cardiac Arrest?” and led in with this narrative:

“The sudden collapse of Danish soccer player Christian Eriksen during his country’s match against Finland at the Euro 2020 championships [in early June 2020] sent shockwaves across the stadium in Copenhagen and the world over.

Towards the end of the first half, the 29-year-old midfielder fell face-first to the turf and lay motionless for several minutes as his teammates huddled around him and the medical staff rushed to the pitch to revive his heart.

Eriksen had suffered a cardiac arrest and had to receive life-saving cardiopulmonary resuscitation (CPR) on the pitch before he was taken to the hospital.

It was a familiar sight soccer fans have witnessed before.”

New England Journal of Medicine statistics from 2017 indicated that approximately 100 to 150 athletes in the United States die from sudden cardiac deaths each year.  The survival rate for athletes who are inflicted is around 44%.

Three physician researchers writing in the April-June 2016 Methodist DeBakey Cardiovascular Journal (“Sudden Cardiac Death in Athletes”) stated that SCD is the most common medical cause of death in athletes.  SCD in athletes younger than 35 years of age “is commonly due to inherited cardiac conditions,” whereas in athletes older than 35, death “is most often due to atherosclerotic coronary artery disease.” 

Besides age, risk factors vary by the sport played, gender, and race.  For example, the authors stated that National Collegiate Athletic Association Division 1 basketball players are estimated to have ten times the risk of SCD than the overall athlete population–1 in 5,200 for basketball vs. 1 in 53,703 for all athletes per year.  Comparative figures for soccer were 1 in 23,689 and for football 1 in 35,951.

NCAA statistics pertaining to risk factors for SCD reveal that male athletes are 3.2 times more at risk than female athletes.  Black athletes are most at risk of SCD, followed by Hispanics, and then caucasians.

In late October, 2021, New York governor Kathy Hochul signed a law establishing rules for monitoring students who are showing signs of sudden cardiac arrest and for administering help.  Such regulation is commendable but is no cure-all, as many athletes have passed screening tests only to later succumb to SCD. 

Jim Fixx’s 1977 bestseller The Complete Book of Running sold over a million copies and helped to fuel the huge popularity of running for health and recreation in the 1970s and 1980s.  Fixx died of heart failure at age 52 while running alone on a Vermont country road.  His father had suffered a heart attack at age 35 and died of a second one at 43.  Several cardiologists pointed out that Jim Fixx’s death shows you can’t entirely overcome your family medical history and DNA, no matter what shape you are in physically.

As is the case with human athletes in a host of sports, some racehorses, sport horses, and show horses will inevitably die of cardiac arrest in training and competition, no matter how much screening is done. And, like high-school athletes who tragically die from exercise-induced heart failure, a number of young horses like Medina Spirit will suffer SCD. That knowledge does not take away the sting and sorrow when it occurs, but scientifically speaking, it is a medical reality.

The allegation by critics that a racehorse dying from cardiac arrest is a cruel outlier in the sports world is patently a falsehood.


A December 2019 article in the Journal of Atrial Fibrillation, authored by six medical doctors, provides an in-depth and technical probe into the precise causes of SCD deaths of an assortment of world-class athletes like “Pistol Pete” Maravich, Hank Gathers, Reggie Lewis, and “Flo-Jo” Hyman.  Unfortunately, many names could be added to this long and growing list from a variety of sports.

Copyright © 2021 Horse Racing Business