2017 HORSE OF THE HALF YEAR

Voting for North American Horse of the Year will commence soon and the odds-on favorite for the coveted title is Gun Runner.  The facts are clear that Gun Runner was dominant in the second half of 2017, but for the first half of the year Arrogate was manifestly the best horse on dirt in the world, with arguably the best record ever in such a short period of time.

During the first half of 2017, Arrogate won the two richest races in the world, which followed his win in November 2016 in the Breeders’ Cup Classic.

  • 1st in the Grade 1 Pegasus World Cup Invitational (1/28/17)
  • 1st in the Grade 1 Dubai World Cup (3/25/17)

Meanwhile, from January through June 2017, Gun Runner won two races and finished second to Arrogate in the other race:

  • 1st in the Grade 2 Razorback Handicap (2/20/17)
  • 2nd in the Grade 1 Dubai World Cup (3/25/17)
  • 1st in the Grade 1 Stephen Foster Handicap (6/17/17)

From July through December 2017, the situation completely reversed itself as Gun Runner went undefeated and Arrogate tailed off badly.

Gun Runner won three races and Arrogate lost three races, including to Gun Runner in the Breeders’ Cup Classic.  Gun Runner’s record was:

  • 1st in the Grade 1 Whitney Handicap (8/15/17)
  • 1st in the Grade 1 Woodward Stakes (9/2/17)
  • 1st in the Grade 1 Breeders’ Cup Classic (11/4/2017)

By contrast, Arrogate was:

  • 4th in the Grade 2 San Diego Handicap (7/22/17)
  • 2nd in the Grade 1 Pacific Classic (8/19/17)
  • 5th in the Grade 1 Breeders’ Cup Classic (11/4/17)

Arrogate won more purse money ($13.2 million) in the 2017 Pegasus World Cup Invitational and the 2017 Dubai World Cup than Gun Runner has earned in his entire career ($8.6 million) and retired as the leading money winner of all time with an astonishing $17.5 million.  His recovery from a poor start to win the Dubai World Cup made him look like a super horse; caught up in the emotion of the moment, the race announcer called him “the Man O’ War of the 21st century” and Arrogate’s trainer, Bob Baffert, said he was the preeminent horse since Secretariat.  While Arrogate and Gun Runner split in their two races in 2017, Arrogate bested Gun Runner twice in the three times they met overall.

On the other hand, Gun Runner was unquestionably much more consistent than Arrogate in 2017, winning five of six races in comparison to Arrogate’s record of two wins in five starts.

The cognitive principle known as the recency effect is that humans remember best the most recently presented items or experiences.  Applying this to the forgoing information, in terms of relative performance in 2017, we are prone to overvalue the merits of Gun Runner and undervalue the merits of Arrogate simply because Gun Runner did so much better than Arrogate in the latter half of the year.

The recency effect will likely prevail among voters and Gun Runner will be named Horse of the Year.  Yet the choice is not as cut and dried as it seems because of the difficulty and historical first of Arrogate’s two wins in 2017 in the world’s richest races.

Maybe each should be crowned Horse of the Half Year.

Copyright © 2017 Horse Racing Business

PENN NATIONAL GAMING’S RECENT RACETRACK ACQUISITIONS AND SALE

The Penn National Gaming acquisition of Las Vegas-based Pinnacle Entertainment makes it the largest regional gaming operator in the United States.  Penn premerger has approximately 35,000 gaming machines, 800 table games, 4,600 hotel rooms, five Thoroughbred or Quarter Horse racetracks, and five harness tracks in the United States and Canada.

The $2.8 acquisition of Pinnacle will add $2 billion in revenue, increase the number of gaming facilities and racetracks from 31 to 41, and boost the number of employees from 19,000 to 35,000.  In 2016, Penn had revenue of over $2.6 billion and 2017 has seen record revenue growth.

Pinnacle Entertainment owns three racetracks:  Belterra Park in Cincinnati, Ohio, Retama Park near San Antonio, and The Meadows in Washington, Pennsylvania not far from Pittsburgh.  Penn will keep the latter two and is selling Belterra Park to Boyd Gaming.  Boyd already owns two racetracks in Louisiana, Delta Downs and Evangeline Downs.

Penn National Gaming began with a single racetrack in 1972 to become the company today with the most horse-racing tracks in the United States.  The overall portfolio of tracks can accurately be described as casino-oriented and workaday.  With the exception of Sam Houston Race Park near Houston, Texas and the soon-to-be-acquired Retama Park, the rest of Penn’s racetracks are integrated with casinos and are located in the Northeast and Midwest, where they operate throughout the cold winters.  Penn recently opened brand-new cold-weather racetracks in Ohio, a harness track near Dayton, and a Thoroughbred track close to Youngstown.  The Penn racetracks do not offer much in the way of graded stakes.

Although Penn National’s racetracks do not have the name recognition of the major Thoroughbred racetracks in the United States, they do a great service for the American breeding and racing enterprise by providing places for owners and trainers to race their horses that can’t compete at the highest level of competition.  In fact, Penn racetracks are indispensable to the Thoroughbred and Standardbred American bloodstock businesses.

Copyright © 2017 Horse Racing Business

THE REMARKABLE GRADE I RECORD OF AIDAN O’BRIEN

The late Bobby Frankel set the world record for Grade I wins in 2003 with 25.  By late October of 2017, 48-year-old Aidan O’Brien passed this milestone by training his 26th Grade I winner and added the 27th a week later in the Breeders’ Cup Juvenile Turf with Mendelssohn.  On December 10th, Mr. O’Brien had his 28th Grade I winner when Highland Reel won the Hong Kong Vase for the third consecutive year.

Mr. O’Brien rose to acclaim as a National Hunt trainer by saddling a record-breaking number of winners.  In 1996, he switched to flat racing and became the trainer at Coolmore Stud’s Ballydoyle, made famous by his predecessor Vincent O’Brien (no kinship).  Beginning in 1999 and continuing every year since, he has been the leading European trainer in terms of purses won by his horses.  He is the only trainer to have won the Epsom Derby three years in a row, with Australia in 2012, Ruler of the World in 2013, and Camelot in 2014.  His trainee Wings of Eagles perhaps started a new streak by winning the Epsom Derby in 2017.

According to the Racing Post, horses trained by Mr. O’Brien from 2013 through December 2017 have earned €24,826,406 in purses, which is the equivalent of about $29,2973,935.  A U. S.-based trainer with this kind of extraordinary success would have much more in purses, owing to the much larger purses than in Europe.  For example, one horse alone, the Bob-Baffert trained Arrogate, earned close to $17.5 million in his eleven-race career.

No trainer can record superior performances without talent to work with.  Mr. O’Brien certainly has the benefit of the Coolmore Stud blue-blooded racing stock and in particular the offspring of Galileo.  Yet even with that advantage, it is a remarkable feat to train twenty-eight Grade I winners in a single calendar year.  Combine that with his consistently superb record year after year and one can say, without inserting the qualifying word arguably, that Aidan O’Brien is in the upper echelon of greatest racehorse trainers of all time.

What does a person do when he or she has reached the pinnacle of success by age 48?  The only answer can be to compete against oneself.

Copyright © 2017 Horse Racing Business