TECHNOLOGY DISRUPTED HORSE RACING, THEN SAVED IT

Steve Forbes, editor-in-chief of Forbes magazine, recently wrote about “High Tech for Legacy Industries.”  He said:  “One of the amazing aspects of new technology is how it can be applied with awesome results to traditional ‘legacy’ industries.”

As examples, Forbes pointed to Sam Walton’s pioneering use of mainframe computers and software to manage inventories and supply chains; technology being applied to make agriculture more productive; and horizontal drilling and hydraulic fracturing to vastly increase the output of oil and gas.

Without personal computers, tablets, smartphones, software, and the Internet, horse racing would have undoubtedly suffered more than it already has in the face of so many competitive forms of gambling and entertainment.  Absent the ability to bet remotely, a core of players would have gone to racetracks to wager, but not enough to sustain the sport for the long term.

While information technologies radically disrupted the horse racing enterprise by making it unnecessary for bettors to go to a racetrack, and thereby severely curtailed live attendance, the technologies saved horse racing as a business proposition.

With betting accounts made possible by readily available computer technology and software, people could wager without ever setting foot on a racetrack.  Moreover, the sport was able to expand to cities and states without brick-and-mortar racing facilities.

Additionally, bettors have Internet access to a wealth of past-performance data on websites like TwinSpires and Xpressbet and software programs to crunch the numbers.

(Technology also revolutionized the bloodstock side of the horse racing industry.  Various methods to select and buy yearlings that, for instance, rely on heart scans, bone scans, and stride and motion projections offer a far more scientific approach than in the past.  Historical backtesting of the effectiveness of various bloodline crosses can be done in a flash).

Thoroughbred horse racing is one of the most legacy industries imaginable, going back to the 1700s.  After nearly 300 years, the sport is still around in an age when the vast majority of people have no hands-on experience with horses.  Information-related technologies have kept it out of the dustbin of history.

Copyright © 2018 Horse Racing Business

NUMBER OF THOROUGHBREDS IN THE USA IN 2018

The American Horse Council Economic Impact Study of 2018 estimated that as of 2017 there were 7.2 million horses in the United States, of which 1.1 million were Thoroughbreds.  As demonstrated in my article of August 15, 2018 (click here), the 1.1 million figure is an actuarial impossibility.  Following is a “ballpark” estimate of the number of Thoroughbreds currently in the United States.  (The reader can easily make his or her own estimates by changing the figures used in the assumptions.)

Fact:  The Jockey Club registered 875,660 Thoroughbreds between 1990 and 2018.

Assumption 1:  The mortality rate between 1990 and 2018 for the Thoroughbred population from natural causes averaged about 3.4% per year.  Thus, to illustrate, from an actuarial perspective, 62.1% of the Thoroughbreds registered in 2007 and 31.9% of the Thoroughbreds registered in 1998 could be alive and 4.6% from 1990.  Some horses born before 1990 are still living but the number is so insignificant that it does not add much to today’s Thoroughbred population.  Using the calculations based on these actuarial assumptions, the total number of Thoroughbreds is about 409,183, give or take some for rounding.

However, exported Thoroughbreds and slaughtered Thoroughbreds must be deducted from the total of 409,183.

Fact:  According to The Jockey Club data, from 2007-2017 net exports of Thoroughbreds (i.e. exports minus imports) ran at about 8.7% of each year’s foal crop (The Jockey Club exports do not include registered Thoroughbreds sent to Mexico, Canada, and other countries for slaughter, which technically are exports.)

Assumption 2:  From 1990 through 2018, the number of net exports was approximately 76,182 horses.

Assumption 3:  The number of U. S. Thoroughbreds sent to slaughter from 1990 through 2018 averaged between 5,000 and 6,000 per year.  Take the midpoint of 5,500 and the aggregate lost to slaughter is some 159,500 over the 1990-2018 period.

Using these facts and assumptions, the number of registered Thoroughbreds in the United States in 2018 is:

X = 409,183 – (76,182 + 159,500) = 173,501

Fact:  Not all Thoroughbreds born in the United States are registered.

Assumption 4:  Say that 10% of all Thoroughbreds born each year are not registered, which comes to 87,566 over the 29-year period 1990-2018.  Using the same actuarial assumptions as above, 41,156 could still be alive, but accounting for those sent to slaughter, the number living is perhaps 33,748.

Number of registered and unregistered Thoroughbreds in the United States in 2018 is:

Y = 173,501 + 33,748 = 207,249

Suppose this figure is in error by a large margin of 20%.  The range would be between 165,799 and 248,698 living Thoroughbreds in the United States.

Even if one were to significantly change the assumptions used in the forgoing calculations, the total number of Thoroughbreds in the United States is far less than 1.1 million.

Copyright © 2018 Horse Racing Business

GRADE I FEVER CAN LEAD TO QUESTIONABLE OWNER DECISIONS

Racehorse owners of promising 3-year-olds usually dream of winning America’s premier races, especially the Kentucky Derby.  However, I’ve often thought about why some owners persist in running their horses in Grade 1 races once it has become apparent they aren’t all that competitive.

Vino Rosso is one of several cases in point in 2018.  The colt has a blueblood pedigree (by Curlin out of a Street Cry mare) and won both of his races as a 2-year-old, a maiden special weight and an optional claiming allowance.

In 2018, his record leading up to the Kentucky Derby was:

February 10:  3rd in a Grade 3 at Tampa Bay Downs
March 10:  4th in the Grade 2 Tampa Bay Derby
April 7:  1st in the Grade 2 Wood Memorial at Aqueduct

Based on his win in the Wood Memorial, he certainly warranted a try at the Kentucky Derby, in which he ran 9th.   Since then, he has run three times:

June 9:  4th in the Grade 1 Belmont
July 28:  3rd in the Grade 2 Jim Dandy at Saratoga
August 25:  5th in the Grade 1 Travers at Saratoga

After the colt finished a badly beaten 9th in the Kentucky Derby, it is understandable that he was given a chance to redeem himself in the Belmont, where he finished fourth but was nowhere near the winner, Justify.

At this point, an objective assessment by his connections would have led to a more realistic racing path, consisting, say, of the $500,000 Grade 3 Ohio Derby in late June, the $750,000 Grade 2 West Virginia Derby in early August, and if he performed well in these races, the $1 million Grade 1 Pennsylvania Derby in late September.

Owners can choose to run their horses when and where they want.  Yet in terms of boosting a colt’s career earnings and potential value in the stud, wins in some lucrative Grade 2 and Grade 3 races are better than mediocre finishes in Grade 1s.  There is always the danger, of course, that a colt won’t do well in less prestigious races, but horse racing is all about taking calculated risks to do what is best for a horse and his or her owner.

Copyright © 2018 Horse Racing Business