THE REMARKABLE GRADE I RECORD OF AIDAN O’BRIEN

The late Bobby Frankel set the world record for Grade I wins in 2003 with 25.  By late October of 2017, 48-year-old Aidan O’Brien passed this milestone by training his 26th Grade I winner and added the 27th a week later in the Breeders’ Cup Juvenile Turf with Mendelssohn.  On December 10th, Mr. O’Brien had his 28th Grade I winner when Highland Reel won the Hong Kong Vase for the third consecutive year.

Mr. O’Brien rose to acclaim as a National Hunt trainer by saddling a record-breaking number of winners.  In 1996, he switched to flat racing and became the trainer at Coolmore Stud’s Ballydoyle, made famous by his predecessor Vincent O’Brien (no kinship).  Beginning in 1999 and continuing every year since, he has been the leading European trainer in terms of purses won by his horses.  He is the only trainer to have won the Epsom Derby three years in a row, with Australia in 2012, Ruler of the World in 2013, and Camelot in 2014.  His trainee Wings of Eagles perhaps started a new streak by winning the Epsom Derby in 2017.

According to the Racing Post, horses trained by Mr. O’Brien from 2013 through December 2017 have earned €24,826,406 in purses, which is the equivalent of about $29,2973,935.  A U. S.-based trainer with this kind of extraordinary success would have much more in purses, owing to the much larger purses than in Europe.  For example, one horse alone, the Bob-Baffert trained Arrogate, earned close to $17.5 million in his eleven-race career.

No trainer can record superior performances without talent to work with.  Mr. O’Brien certainly has the benefit of the Coolmore Stud blue-blooded racing stock and in particular the offspring of Galileo.  Yet even with that advantage, it is a remarkable feat to train twenty-eight Grade I winners in a single calendar year.  Combine that with his consistently superb record year after year and one can say, without inserting the qualifying word arguably, that Aidan O’Brien is in the upper echelon of greatest racehorse trainers of all time.

What does a person do when he or she has reached the pinnacle of success by age 48?  The only answer can be to compete against oneself.

Copyright © 2017 Horse Racing Business

WHO WILL BE THE MORE SUCCESSFUL SIRE: AMERICAN PHAROAH OR ARROGATE?

This time of year is slow in terms of horse-racing news and upcoming big races.  So, with the breeding season only two months away, it is a good time to interject some debatable subjects.

Here’s one:

Who will turn out to be the more successful stallion, American Pharoah or Arrogate?

Both of these horses were sensational racehorses, with American Pharoah winning the American Triple Crown and Arrogate running races with speed and fortitude, such as his overcoming a terrible start in the 2017 Dubai World Cup, and becoming the top-earning racehorse of all time.

My personal view is that while American Pharoah was more consistently at the top of his game than Arrogate, who tailed off badly at the end of his career, Arrogate on his best day would have outrun American Pharoah on his best day.  Bob Baffert, who trained both horses, appears to have the same opinion:  after the Dubai World Cup he said that Arrogate was the best racehorse since Secretariat.

In terms of potential to sire racehorses, the stud-fee market favors American Pharoah.  His initial fee was $200,000 versus $75,000 for Arrogate.  However, Blood-Horse reported: “The 2015 Triple Crown winner, American Pharoah entered stud with a published fee of $200,000, though many breeders disclosed later in the year they had been offered two-for-one deals at that price.”  In 2018, American Pharoah’s stud fee likely has been reduced as it is listed as “private.”

Both horses initially are attracting a gifted book of mares.  As time goes by and their get reach the racetrack, Arrogate or American Pharoah will prove to be better than the other.  My guess is that Arrogate will best American Pharoah.  His dam’s family includes the Grade I winner Meadow Star, whereas American Pharoah’s dam’s family is pedestrian.

Whether American Pharoah and Arrogate go down as highly successful sires is far from a certainty, as there is a long history of great racehorses like Citation disappointing at stud.

Copyright © 2017 Horse Racing Business

THE SUPREMES CONSIDER EXPANDED SPORTS BETTING IN THE USA

The 1992 U. S. Professional and Amateur Sports Protection Act prohibited sports betting in all but four states that already permitted the practice—Delaware, Montana, Nevada, and Oregon.  Today, the U.S. Supreme Court heard arguments from New Jersey to overturn the law and enable states to institute sports betting.  The challenge proffered is that the 1992 law is unconstitutional and infringes on states’ rights.

MLB, the NCAA, the NBA, the NFL, and the NHL are opposing New Jersey’s efforts and have sued to prevent New Jersey from proceeding with sports betting.  By contrast, eighteen state attorney generals and three governors are supporting New Jersey and five states have already passed legislation legalizing sports betting and another six or so states are considering taking the same step.

If the Supreme Court in June 2018 strikes down the 1992 law, racetracks in states permitting sports betting should benefit in that they will likely be sports-betting sites.  However, the effect on pari-mutuel wagering on horse racing in the aggregate is problematic.

An argument can be made that illegal sports betting is already rampant, with bets being made via bookies, offshore websites, and office pools, so that legalizing the activity will only bring it into the open and produce tax revenues for states.  However, legalization may greatly increase the dollar amount of sports betting as new players decide to participate.

If sports betting is legalized in more states, the question for horse racing is to what extent its current players, overall, will treat horse-race betting and sports betting as substitute products.  If they are treated as substitutes, pari-mutuel wagering will almost surely be eroded.  On the other hand, sports betting could bring new customers to racetracks, and that could lead to additional pari-mutuel players.

If I had to guess, without sufficient empirical evidence, I would speculate that pari-mutuel wagering will not be advantaged by legalized sports betting, primarily because most people who know a lot about the intricacies of betting against a line do not know much about the esoteria of handicapping horse races.  Yet horse handicappers can easily understand how to wager against a betting line.  Moreover, the house cut of sports bets is considerably less than the takeout on horse wagers.

The most proactive step that horse racing can take is to begin to develop horse-racing bets that emulate to a large degree betting on, say, an NFL game.  Whether that is feasible or not is an open question.

Copyright © 2017 Horse Racing Business