REDUCING THE FATALITIES-PER-1,000-STARTS STATISTIC

The never-ending quest in horse racing is to make it safer for its human and equine athletes.  Since 2009, the Equine Injury Database shows that significant improvements have been made, with the fatalities-per-1000-starts summary statistic on all kinds of surfaces (dirt, turf, and synthetic) decreasing from 2.0 in 2009 to 1.61 in 2017.

Data reported in The Chronicle of the Horse—in an article (May 21 & 28, 2018) by veterinarian William McCormick tilted “Sport Horse Injury Prevention and the Elephant in the Room”—raise answerable questions about causality of catastrophic injuries in horse racing.

Consider the findings of a 2017 study by Dr. Sue Dyson, who is the head of clinical orthopedics at Britain’s Animal Trust, pertaining to English sport horses: “Of 506 horses in work and thought to be sound, 47 percent were, in fact, lame.”

The Chronicle reported similar results in an unpublished study done at the aforementioned Dr. McCormick’s Middleburg, Virginia equine facility: “…of 563 sport horses presented for pre-purchase examination…at the Middleburg Equine Clinic…44 percent were lame.”

While these findings on sport horses cannot be extrapolated to racehorses, they do suggest potentially valuable research.  A scientific study at a representative cross-section of North American racetracks, conducted by a team of independent equine veterinarians, would provide empirical evidence on (a) the extent to which lame horses are being allowed to run in races and (b) whether fatalities might be curtailed further through more stringent pre-race exams and more scratches by the veterinarians employed by state racing commissions.

Such vets already screen entries, so the incidence of lame horses running races is likely to be nowhere near the 44 percent and the 47 percent found in the sport-horse studies in Great Britain and Virginia.  However, because racetracks are challenged to present bettors with full fields, it may be that track veterinarians generally have a bias toward letting questionable horses run.  If so, racetracks could mitigate the pressure vets feel to clear horses to race by cutting back on the number of live races to fill.

Most racetrack executives and the preponderance of track-employed vets would likely take some convincing that an independently and objectively conducted research study designed to determine the extent to which lame horses are running in races is in their best interests.  But it is certainly in the best interests of the horses and jockeys whose lives are on the line.

Copyright © 2018 Horse Racing Business

REFLECTIONS ON MEMORIAL DAY 2018

Years ago, I was traveling to Saratoga Springs, New York for the races and detoured to visit historical sites in the Hudson Valley, including the United States Military Academy.

As I strolled through the West Point Cemetery, deep in thought as I read the names etched on the monuments, many of them famous, I came across an especially memorable tombstone.  It identified the burial site of Major General Edwin White Sr. and his sons Lt. Colonel Edwin White II (the first astronaut to walk in outer space) and Major James White.

The siblings had been killed in service to the United States.  Lt. Colonel White was lost in the fire in the preflight training accident for NASA’s Apollo program in 1967, along with two other astronauts, and Major White’s plane went down in Laos in 1969 during the Vietnam War.  I wondered how much grief one family can endure.

On Memorial Day, General White’s sons and countless other men and women who made the ultimate sacrifice are who we honor.  Ordinary citizens who left the mortal life too soon at farflung places like Lexington Green, Gettysburg, Normandy, and Afghanistan.

Memorial Day weekend is a time to put aside partisanship and animosities that so divide us as a nation and to remember that the cherished freedoms we Americans tend to take for granted come at the steepest price possible.

Racing fans, have a blessed Memorial Day weekend.

Copyright © 2018 Horse Racing Business

AUDIBLE: TO RUN OR NOT TO RUN HIM IN THE BELMONT?

Justify and Audible ran first and third, respectively, in the 2018 Kentucky Derby.  The colts have the same ownership group but different trainers.  While Justify won the Preakness, Audible was held out of the race to prep for the Belmont.

The owners are now faced with an enviable yet thought-provoking decision:  Should they run a fresh Audible in the Belmont and take the chance that he will deprive Justify of becoming the thirteenth Triple Crown winner?  Following are three possible strategies.

The Sporting Strategy.  The attitude behind this reasoning is Que Sera Sera or “whatever will be will be.”  Run both colts in the Belmont in spite of the potential consequences and let the chips fall where they may.

This laissez-faire approach could result in Audible taking down Justify.  Imagine the mixed emotions the owners would experience if Audible were to win by a neck or nose over Justify:  “We won but we lost.”

However, running Audible gives the owners insurance in the event that Justify falters badly.

The Commercial Strategy.  The monetary value of the well-bred and ideally conformed Justify would be much greater were he to be a Triple Crown champion rather than the winner of the first two legs.  Justify will have enough difficulty against a strong field at 1 ½ miles without his owners self-imposing more stress by running Audible.  Err on the side of prudence and don’t add to Justify’s already formidable task.

The Hedge Strategy.  Leaving ethics aside for the moment, the owners could instruct Audible’s jockey, Javier Castellano, not to pass Justify if it looks like Justify is going to win the Belmont.  Some sort of purse split would be guaranteed to Castellano and trainer Todd Pletcher.

Assuming that Castellano and Pletcher would agree, which is problematic, this strategy is not so farfetched.  Trainers sometimes start “rabbits” in races to ensure a fair pace for the trainer’s better entry.  And people bet on the rabbit even though it has only a very slim chance to finish in the money after a suicidal pace.

Yet Audible is no rabbit and has a legitimate shot to win the Belmont.  Moreover, the Hedge Strategy would be more defensible if Audible and Justify were running as a coupled entry, which they are not, so bettors would collect no matter which horse won.

The 1948 Triple Crown provides some historical context.  Calumet Farm started stablemates Citation and Coaltown in the Kentucky Derby, with Citation coming out on top and Coaltown running second.  Father and son trainers Ben and Jimmy Jones did not run Coaltown back in either the Preakness or the Belmont.

Though the Joneses never provided a public explanation, it is likely they thought the blazing-fast Coaltown—who equaled three world records and broke four track records during his racing career—would be especially dangerous at the Preakness distance and they did not want to risk an upset of Citation.  Citation went on to win the Triple Crown and both he and Coaltown have their names enshrined in the National Museum of Racing’s Hall of Fame.  The Jones’ decision may be why Calumet Farm has two winners of the Triple Crown instead of one.

Copyright © 2018 Horse Racing Business