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

PREAKNESS BUSINESS METRICS

In spite of rainy weather and fog, a reported 134,487 people showed up at Pimlico for the Preakness Stakes, the third largest crowd in the history of the race.  The dilapidated condition of the Pimlico racetrack and the leaky roof during heavy rain makes this turnout a testimonial to the powerful draw of the Preakness.

Betting on the Preakness card was $93.66 million–which was the third best ever—and came notwithstanding the small field sizes, including the eight-entry Preakness with a strong favorite in the mix.  The Preakness itself set a betting record with a handle of $61.97 million, up $600,000 over the previous record set in 2016 and up 2.9% over 2017.

The Preakness is always intriguing if the Kentucky Derby winner is in the field.  People tune in to see if the second jewel of the Triple Crown advances the prospect for a sweep of the three races.  The race had a television rating of 5.5 and a share of 12.  (A show’s rating is the percentage of all possible TV households or viewers in the country and its share is the percentage of households or viewers actually watching TV at the time.)  Thus an estimated 5.5 percent of all television sets in the United States were tuned in to the Preakness.  The race’s share of TV sets that were actually turned on to any program was 12 percent, or one in eight.

With a buoyant U. S. economy and the lowest unemployment rate since 2000, the record-breaking betting trend seen in the Kentucky Derby continued in the Preakness.  With the possibility of a Triple Crown winner in Justify, betting on the Belmont Stakes should set another record, barring an injury that preludes the colt from running or a black-swan national catastrophe.

Copyright © 2018 Horse Racing Business