POSITIVE ITEMS IN AMERICAN HORSE RACING

1. Horse racing benefits with the involvement of talented people from younger generations who want to devote their skills and bring enthusiasm to the industry and sport.  The Darley Flying Start program, for example, has educated numerous millennials who have transitioned into all sort of occupations in racing and breeding.

In early June, 2017, The Jockey Club announced the first recipient (Julianna Witt) of The Jockey Club Scholarship that supports a qualified college student in the amount of $15,000 per academic year.  The base requirement is that a student is seeking to earn a bachelor’s degree or a graduate degree and intends to pursue a career path in Thoroughbred racing.  The Jockey Club also awards The Jack Goodman Scholarship for $6,000 in an academic year to a student at the University of Arizona’s Racetrack Industry Program.  The RTIP recipient for 2017-2018 is Scott Little.

The Jockey Club membership and staff are to be commended for making investments in the educated human resources needed to shepard horse racing in the future.

2.  Janet and Craig Duchossois and the The Duchossois Foundation donated $100 million to University of Chicago Medicine for “an institute that brings together immunology, microbiology, genetics, and big data” to “develop a new science of wellness.”  The generous family is prominent in horse racing and is the largest shareholder in Churchill Downs, Inc.

3.  Parx Racing in Philadelphia has aggressively addressed the sordid fact that it had 55 purse redistributions in 2016 owing to medication violations and hidden horse ownership.

Effective June 1, 2017, a trainer who has three medication violations within a 365-day period that culminate in a fine or suspension, or two violations resolved with suspensions, will be required to vacate his or her horses from Parx.  The eviction occurs when the trainer has run out of appeals with the Pennsylvania Racing Commission.  Moreover, a horse that has a medication violation goes on the racing secretary’s list for 45 days and is prohibited from racing.  During that period, if the horse is sold or transferred to another trainer, it must be removed from Parx.  Finally, a trainer participating in hidden ownership of a horse will be banished from Parx and his or her horses must be removed.

4.  The Equine Injury Database continues to show immense progress in reducing the number of racing-related horse fatalities.  In 2009, there were 2.0 fatalities per 1,000 starts (aggregating data from the three types of racing surfaces), a figure that declined to 1.54 in 2016.  The fatality rate on dirt surfaces decreased by 19% between 2009 and 2016 and the fatality rate on turf dropped by 44% over the same span of time.  The fatality rate per thousand starts on synthetic surfaces (the safest surface of all) ranged between 1.0 and 1.2 between 2010 and 2016.

5.  The North American horse racing industry has made commendable progress recently in transitioning racehorses to second careers or retirement facilities rather than having them sent to slaughterhouses in Canada and Mexico.  Numerous caring individuals and organizations are responsible for the progress in humane treatment of retired racehorses. (However, the problem will never be solved in a major way until a percentage of pari-mutuel revenue is allocated to the cause, as is done in Ontario.)

6.  Sue Finley has written an article of the kind not usually found in a Thoroughbred publication.  It is titled “Day of Days” and is in the June 2017 TDN Weekend.   “Day of Days” pertains to D-Day on June 6, 1944, when so many heroic Allied Forces military personnel stormed the beaches at Normandy…and many made the ultimate sacrifice.  Sue provided the narrative and Zuzanna Lupa contributed the photography. Click here for the link.

Copyright © 2017 Horse Racing Business

MORE ON THE 2017 TRIPLE CROWN

It is always going out on a limb to declare how strong or weak a 3-year-old Thoroughbred crop is immediately following the Triple Crown series.  Last year in June, the name Arrogate was relatively unknown.  Even though he didn’t run in a single Triple Crown race, he ended up 2016 by winning the Travers and the Breeders’ Cup Classic, followed in early 2017 by winning the $12 million Pegasus World Cup and the $10 million Dubai World Cup.

As of now, the current 3-year-old crop in North America appears, in aggregate, to be mediocre.  Only one colt, Looking at Lee, competed in all three Triple Crown races.  Additionally, neither the winner of the Kentucky Derby nor the Preakness ran in the Belmont Stakes.  It could be that a late-developing colt emerges later this year, as Arrogate did in 2016.  Or maybe one of the Triple Crown entrants improves so much that he dominates his peers.

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The Preakness is the race in the Triple Crown series with the most uncertainty surrounding it.  Pimlico is so run down that it may take as much as $500 million to rebuild it.  Pimlico’s owner, the Stronach Group, has said that the Preakness will remain in Maryland, though there are no guarantees that it won’t be moved to Laurel Park, also owned by the Stronach Group.

Laurel Park, located near Washington, DC, would likely have a difficult time accommodating the crowd size that typically shows up for the Preakness.  With a crowd of 140,000-plus, parking and seating would be an issue, as well as waiting times at the pari-mutuel windows and concession stands.  The Stronach Group’s other option, notwithstanding its statements about keeping the Preakness in Maryland, is to move the race to its Gulfstream Park facility in southeast Florida near Miami.  This would require the Stronach Group to vastly increase the seating capacity at Gulfstream Park, which would make good business sense because it would then have a physical plant sufficiently large to host the Breeders’ Cup.

Copyright © 2017 Horse Racing Business

2017 TRIPLE CROWN BUSINESS METRICS IN REVIEW

Now that the Triple Crown races for 2017 are completed, an assessment can be made pertaining to the overall business outcomes of the triumvirate.

Kentucky Derby, May 6:

The telecast of the Derby had a rating of 10.5 and a share of audience of 23 (definitions for these terms are shown at the end of this article).  This was the second best performance in the past quarter century and the rating was an increase of 12.5% over 2016.   The race portion of the telecast had a rating of 9.3 and a TV audience of 19.1 million.

Kentucky Derby 143 was the most streamed ever with 281,000 unique visits—up 25% from last year.

Betting on the Derby program set a record with a handle of $209.2 million.  This was an improvement of 12% over 2016 and 8% better than the previous record of 2015.

The crowd at Churchill Downs was the seventh largest in the history of the race with 158,070 in attendance.

Preakness Stakes, May 20:

The telecast had a rating of 4.9 and a share of audience of 11.  The rating was 6.2 with a share of audience of 14 during the segment of the telecast that included the actual race.  These metrics should be viewed in context:  the Preakness earned the top rating for all sports telecasts on May 20, 2017.

The Preakness broke all attendance and wagering records.  Attendance was 140,327 versus 135,256 in 2016, a notable fact given the dilapidated condition of the Pimlico racing facility.  Betting handle for the entire Preakness program was $97.2 million, which was a 7.1% increase from 2016.

Belmont Stakes, June 10:

Absent the possibility of a Triple Crown champion and lacking the winners of the Kentucky Derby and Preakness, Belmont business metrics predictably were tepid.  Attendance was 57,729 and handle for the card was $93.7 million, declines versus 2016 of 4% and 5.8%, respectively.  The 3-day Belmont Stakes Racing Festival fared better, with handle increasing by 1.6% over last year to $124.7 million.

The Belmont telecast registered a rating of 3.4, a decrease of 21% from 2016, with the race portion having a rating of 4.3.  This was the least viewed Belmont since 2010.

By comparison, the primetime Major League Baseball telecast on Fox, beginning at 8 PM on June 10, 2017, had a rating among viewers 18-49 years old of 0.5, a share of 2.0, and an average audience of 2.31 million viewers.  Games in the Stanley Cup finals in hockey have been averaging a rating of 1.4 and games in the NBA finals so far are averaging a rating of 12.8.

Approximately $400 million was wagered on the combined race-day cards for the Kentucky Derby, the Preakness Stakes, and the Belmont Stakes.  This sum amounts to about 3.7% of current annual pari-mutuel handle in the United States.  Put differently, one tenth of one percent of all U. S. races account for 3.7% of handle, which vividly demonstrates the importance of the Triple Crown.

Copyright © 2017 Horse Racing Business

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The Nielsen Company definitions:

“Rating:  Estimated percentage of the universe of TV households tuned to a program in the average minute. ”

Share of audience:  The percent of households (or persons) using television who are tuned to a specific program, station, or network in a specific area at a specific time.”