ANALYSIS OF HORSE FATALITIES AT SANTA ANITA: PART 1

National media have widely reported the death of the 19th racehorse in two months at Santa Anita and the closing of the main track while the cause is investigated. NBC Nightly News, for example, on February 26, 2019 devoted an entire segment to the carnage. 

Of the 19 horse fatalities, six were on dirt, five on turf, and eight in training. What do hard data reveal about the safety of Santa Anita’s dirt and turf surfaces? For context, in 2010, Santa Anita tore out the synthetic surface on its main track and replaced it with dirt; races were run on synthetic in the first part of the year and on dirt the latter part of the year, including the Breeders’ Cup.

The Jockey Club’s Equine Injury Database reports the number of equine deaths at Santa Anita from 2009 through 2017 as follows (figures for 2018 won’t be available until approximately mid-March 2019):

2009: 5
2010: 8
2011: 19
2012: 18
2013: 15
2014: 21
2015: 19
2016: 25
2017: 20

Horse fatalities began to increase in 2010 with the mid-year installation of the dirt track and then soared in 2011 by a multiple of 3.8 from 2009…and remained elevated through 2017.

The Equine Injury Database has been reporting horse deaths per 1,000 starts for numerous racetracks in North America since 2009. A comparison of average fatality statistics on dirt surfaces from “all racetracks” in North America to average fatality statistics on dirt at Santa Anita from 2010 through 2017 clearly demonstrates that the dirt track at Santa Anita is much more hazardous than the norm. 

From 2010 through 2017, the average fatalities per 1,000 starts on dirt surfaces for all racetracks in the Equine Injury Database was 1.95. By contrast, the statistic for Santa Anita was 2.51, or 29% greater than average.  In only one year (2014) did Santa Anita have a lower fatality rate on dirt than the average for all racetracks. In 2016, the fatality rate per 1,000 starts on dirt for Santa Anita was 84% higher than the fatality rate for all racetracks (3.13 vs. 1.70). 

The fatalities per 1,000 starts figures for turf racing at Santa Anita are also well above the norm for all North American racetracks. Over the years 2009-2017, fatalities per 1,000 starts on turf surfaces averaged 1.50 for all racetracks in the Equine Injury Database, whereas at Santa Anita the statistics were 2.24 for its main turf course and 2.80 for its downhill turf course.

The data conclusively demonstrate that Santa Anita is and has been a risky racetrack for horses, regardless of surface type. The 2019 fatalities are a continuation rather than a new phenomenon. Moreover, in 2010, Santa Anita swapped out one of the safest main tracks for horses (on a synthetic surface) for one of the least safest dirt surfaces in North America.

On Friday, March 1, Horse Racing Business will further discuss these results in Part 2.

Copyright © 2019 Horse Racing Business

SUCCESS BREEDS SUCCESS FOR THE FAMED CHELTENHAM FESTIVAL

Long before the term Brexit had entered the lexicon and before the birth of the Euro, the importance of the Cheltenham Festival in England was easy to gauge. That’s because the value of the Irish punt would plunge in the days before the fabled race meeting would get underway.

Avid Irish racegoers would buy so much sterling that the value of their own currency would fall, noticeably, as thousands of jumps racing fans would make their annual pilgrimage to Prestbury Park with pockets bulging with British sterling.

In 2019, the Cheltenham Festival is bigger than ever; it consists of four full days of racing and 28 individual races run from March 12 through March 15. But this success story is not just based on the number of races and prize-money, which now surpasses £4.5 million. In 2019, the Cheltenham Festival gates will see a footfall of over 250,000 people over the four days of racing. The final day, Gold Cup day, will be the most popular.

In each of the past six years, it has been an Irish trainer who has claimed the distinction of “leading trainer” and both 2017 and 2018 saw more Irish-trained winners at the festival than domestically handled runners. Even the leading jockey has been Irish for the past 11 years.

These facts help when identifying the best Cheltenham betting angles. If a horse is Irish trained, it needs to be taken with the utmost seriousness, as Ireland was responsible for fewer than 30% of all runners in the past two years but more than 60% of the winners in 2018 and nearly 68% in 2017.

The Cheltenham featured races for each day are: Gold Cup on Friday, Champion Chase on Tuesday, Champion Hurdle on Wednesday, and Stayers Hurdle on Thursday. And while French trainer Francois Douman staked his claim to many of these showcase races in the late ’90s and early 21st century, all Festival races have become a straight Ireland vs UK showdown in the past two decades.

Most Cheltenham betting tips & previews 2019 will headline one horse, Altior, as the favorite for this year’s meeting. Handled by champion trainer Nicky Henderson,  Altior won all five of his hurdle races and is also unbeaten in all 12 of his chase starts. As he has swept all before him and beaten every conceivable rival, unsurprisingly the 9-year-old is top-priced 4/9 to win the Champion Chase for a second consecutive season.

Another home-trained horse, Buveur d’Air, is also attempting to retain his crown in 2019. That being the Champion Hurdle and he too is favorite to win for Nicky Henderson. As Paisley Park is favorite for Emma Lavelle in the Stayers Hurdle, all is looking good for the British home defense in 2019, albeit the online bookmakers disagree and their betting odds predict that Ireland will be the most successful nation at Cheltenham for a third consecutive year.

With a strong economy, Cheltenham 2019 looks set to surpass all previous records in terms of betting turnover, attendance, and even television viewership, thanks, in part, to ITV Racing which has injected fresh life into racing since it regained broadcast rights of the sport in January 2017.

MEMORABILIA AND COLLECTIBLES

The National Museum of Racing and Hall of Fame in Saratoga Springs, New York, and the Kentucky Derby Museum in Louisville, Kentucky, are popular places to visit.  One can stroll through the exhibits and see artifacts of famous horses and people from the 19th century up until the present.

Sports memorabilia and collectibles like trophies from long-ago Triple Crown races are irreplaceable and deserve to be in museums where they can be preserved and gazed at by visitors.  Also of interest, however, are memorabilia and collectibles that can be purchased on the open market.  Occasionally, there are news reports of astronomical prices being paid at auction; for example, a 1909-1911 Honus Wagner baseball card went for $3.12 million and a 1952 Mickey Mantle card brought $1.13 million.

I looked on the website of a well-known seller of sports memorabilia and, predictably, the prices varied with the popularity of the athlete and sport, the rarity of an item, how many are in circulation, and condition of the item.

Following are some illustrations from both horse racing and other sports:

Secretariat Sports Illustrated cover, June 11, 1973, $139.99.

Victor Espinoza signed 2015 Belmont Stakes official program, $179.99. (American Pharoah Triple Crown)

Mike Smith signed Sports Illustrated cover with Justify, June 18, 2018, $249.99.

Babe Ruth, swinging the bat in a photo, signed by 35 Hall of Fame players, managers, and executives, $4,999.99.

Joe Montana signed Super Bowl XVI football, $699.99.

Michael Jordan autographed leatherhead Naismith basketball, $2,900.

Muhammad Ali, Michael Jordan, and Tiger Woods autographed Legends of Sport platinum edition photo, $10,000.

Down through the years, I have collected some horse-racing memorabilia, such as Kentucky Derby mint julep glasses going back to 1948, a 1973 Kentucky Derby program signed by winning jockey Ron Turcotte, the official program from the first Breeders’ Cup, and a limited edition Richard Stone Reeves Seattle Slew print. None would bring big bucks if I were to sell. What I should have done was save the baseball cards I had as a boy stored in a shoe box.

Coulda, woulda, and shoulda.