WHAT DATA SUGGEST ABOUT THE AQUEDUCT BREAKDOWNS

Horse deaths at Aqueduct spiked in 2012 and are doing so again in 2015.  While a number of factors are likely to have contributed, the effect of winter weather on a dirt racetrack surface is the leading suspect.

The average high and low Fahrenheit temperatures at Aqueduct during the harshest winter months are similar to two other racetracks with winter racing—Laurel Park in Maryland and Turfway Park near Cincinnati, Ohio.

Dec.             Jan.              Feb.

New York City                   43/32           38/27           42/29

Laurel, Maryland              46/29           42/25           46/27

Florence, Kentucky           44/27          39/22            44/26

The other weather variable that affects racing surfaces is precipitation, with New York City receiving the highest amount of snow and rain of the three locales, as shown in average inches a month.

Dec.             Jan.                Feb.

New York City                   3.58               3.90                2.95

Laurel, Maryland              2.80              3.03                 2.48

Florence, Kentucky           3.11              2.87                 2.64

The most recent statistics from the Jockey Club Injury Database pertaining to horse fatalities (per 1,000 starts) at the three racetracks from 2009-2013 are revealing.

2009       2010       2011       2012       2013

Aqueduct            2.27        2.22        2.30        3.00        1.77

Laurel Park         1.98        2.46        1.02        2.01        3.18

Turfway Park      1.67        1.14        1.07        0.58        1.59

In the five-year period 2009-2013, Turfway Park’s synthetic surface consistently had fatality rates well below the comparable rates at the two racetracks with dirt surfaces.   Turfway’s fatality rates are also considerably below the overall fatality rate of 1.9 for all U. S. racetracks in 2013, many of which are not in cold-weather climates or do not race in the winter.

Note that the horse mortality rate at Laurel Park in 2013 was higher than any single year at Aqueduct, and much higher than any year at Turfway Park and its synthetic surface.  This provides some scientific corroboration that winter racing on dirt racetracks is a recipe for breakdowns.

Anyone who has ridden a horse outside during the winter weather knows the potential perils when metal horseshoes can’t cope with frozen or partially frozen dirt.  A racehorse going at full speed compounds the risk.

The choice for Aqueduct to greatly reduce horse fatalities appears to come down to either abandoning winter racing altogether or installing a synthetic surface.  However, before making a final decision, I would want to examine data on temperature and precipitation and breakdowns for more years and for more cold-climate racetracks that hold winter meets.

The proposed solutions I’ve seen from NYRA regarding the breakdown problem are unlikely to work and seem to indicate that the people in charge are in denial of the real problem and what to do about it.

Copyright © 2015 Horse Racing Business

“CHASING” AT ITS BEST, THE CHELTENHAM FESTIVAL

For most of the year in Great Britain, flat racing gets the headlines, particularly in June for Derby Day at Epsom Downs and later in the month for Royal Ascot at Ascot Racecourse.  However, the steeplechasers or simply “chasers” get their time in the spotlight during The Festival at Cheltenham in March and the Grand National at Aintree in April.

The 2015 Cheltenham Festival is fast approaching on March 10-13.

The Cheltenham Gold Cup, featured on the final day of The Festival, is a Group 1 National Hunt race for horses five-years-old and up.  It is the most prestigious steeplechase race in Great Britain and typically draws 35 international entries that must clear 22 jumps over the course of 3 miles and 2 1/2 furlongs.

The Gold Cup dates back to 1819, when it began as a flat race on Cleeve Hill, situated above the current racing ground.  The owner of the first winner, Spectre, received 100 guineas, British coins of the time.  (Each coin contained approximately one-quarter ounce of gold.)  One hundred five years later, in 1924, the Cheltenham Gold Cup was changed to a jumps race carrying prize money of £685.  The race has been run almost continuously, with the exception of a number of cancellations necessitated by factors like war and flooding.

The 2014 renewal of the race was worth £550,000 and the Irish longshot Lord Windermere prevailed in a thrilling duel by a head.  He was trained by Jim Culloty, who as a jockey piloted Best Mate to three Cheltenham Gold Cup wins.  Lord Windermere survived a stewards’ inquiry after veering in on the second-place finisher On His Own.  The stewards took 15 minutes before finally deciding to leave the results unaltered.

The first three finishers in the 2014 rendition all went off at double-digit odds;  20/1, 16/1. and 14/1, respectively.

According to PaddyPower, the top six horses–and their odds–for the 2015 renewal are currently:

Silviniaco Conte (3/1); Road to Riches (8/1); Many Clouds (10/1); Lord Windermere (12/1); Holywell (12/1), and Bobs Worth, (14/1).   Previous Cheltenham Gold Cup winners Lord Windermere and Bobs Worth are at enticing odds and six horses are 50/1 or higher.

The Cheltenham Festival offers world-class betting races every day leading up to the acclaimed Cheltenham Gold Cup.  In the United Kingdom, it is a time for socializing and enjoying the tradition of watching and betting on the best “chasers.”

Copyright © 2015 Horse Racing Business

TOO MANY UNWANTED HORSES AND FEW GOOD SOLUTIONS

Based on a survey, the American Horse Council estimated in 2005 that there were 9,222,847 horses in the United States.  Of these, the Council found that racehorses of all breeds (Thoroughbreds, Standardbreds, and Quarter Horses) numbered 844,531, or 9.2% of all horses.   Certainly, these approximations have changed in the past decade, but are still likely in the ballpark today and demonstrate the extent of horse ownership in America.

The U. S. Humane Society projects that some 160,000 horses from the United States are slaughtered annually.  Perhaps 14,720 of them (160,000 x .092) are racehorses.

The large numbers demonstrate the magnitude of the task faced by rescue organizations of all breeds of horse:  160,000 horses going to slaughter every 365 days is overwhelming.

And the situation just got more complicated.

In late 2014, the European Union suspended horse meat processed in Mexico, and 87% of the horses slaughtered in Mexican plants come from the United States.  The European Union’s Food and Veterinary Office stated:   “American horses are raised for use in show, sport, work, and recreation, and are regularly administered drugs and other substances over the course of their lives that are potentially toxic to humans.”  Moreover, the Food and Veterinary Office objected to the sordid condition of many horses arriving in Mexico.

The ban by the European Union will likely have two consequences, both negative.  First, some of the meat rejected by the European Union will be diverted to countries in which there are not high standards on meat quality.  Second, horse owners who directly or indirectly want to sell horses that end up in Mexican slaughterhouses will find that course of action is less viable.  As a result, they will simply abandon or neglect their horses, or euthanize them.

The view here is that euthanasia is the least bad choice when the owner won’t or can’t afford to provide for his or her horse’s retirement–or cannot locate a caring home for the animal.  However, a plethora of horse owners (160,000 horses per year in the USA to slaughter) obviously won’t pay for the euthanasia and, instead, they seek the last dollar they can get from “disposing of” horses, no questions asked.  To these people, their friendship with Flicka evidently ends when a horse becomes infirm or a nuisance.

All my life, I’ve heard people say “If people cared enough about their pets to have them spayed or neutered, we would not have so many unwanted animals.”  That’s true, but enough people don’t care or the animal shelters would not be so overcrowded.  Same with providing for horses that owners no longer want.

Recognizing the sad reality that only a small fraction of the nearly 15,000 U. S. racehorses sold off for slaughter every year can reasonably be saved by rescue organizations, an industry euthanasia initiative supported and funded by people who own racehorses (or make their living from them) is worthy of consideration.  It is not the ideal option, but it beats the indignities and atrocities of slaughter.

(A future post will sketch how a euthanasia initiative might work and be financed.)

Copyright © 2015 Horse Racing Business