Archives for March 2017


Horse racing is financially supported by bettors who deserve race outcomes not decided by pharmacology.  As a result, there is understandably criticism when lab tests discover drug violations after bettors have been paid off.

The drug issues in horse racing, including the indiscriminate race-day use of furosemide, are detrimental to the sport, and are part of a macro problem in sports in general pertaining to the use and abuse of medication.  America’s most popular sport by far, professional football, demonstrates the constant tug between between keeping athletes (human or equine) competing and pursuing what is in the best interests of their health and well being.

Over 1,800 retired NFL players recently filed suit against the League’s 32 teams (not the NFL itself) for allegedly violating federal prescription drug laws.  The plaintiffs, in a case scheduled for trial in October 2017, accuse the teams of failing to observe Drug Enforcement Administration guidance on handling and distributing controlled substances.

While the NFL called the lawsuit “meritless,” a survey in 2011 by the Washington University School of Medicine (located in St. Louis, Missouri) revealed that 52% of 644 former NFL players indicated that they played with the aid of prescription pain medication and 71% said they misused such medications.  Some 7% said they were still reliant on opioids in retirement.

A medical advisor to the NFL reported that the average NFL club in 2012 gave players approximately 5,777 doses of nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs and 2,213 doses of controlled substances.  A trainer for an NFL team admitted to giving players drugs in which they were not told the names of or side effects.

The onetime head of the NFL Physicians Society, and the team doctor for the Pittsburgh Steelers, asserted that “a majority of clubs as of 2010 had trainers controlling and handling prescription medications and controlled substances when they should not have.”

Horse racing can and should go its own way to clean up medication abuses by adopting uniform rules and policies across the various jurisdictions and by punishing repeat offenders harshly, regardless of how much other sports look the other way while abuses persist.

The monetary engine that pulls the entire industry is driven by bettors’ perceptions of whether they are getting a “fair shake.”  Moreover, there is an ethical and moral obligation to keep horses and jockeys safe from harm…especially when the cause of harm is evident.

Copyright © 2017 Horse Racing Business


Sports Illustrated featured an article on May 7, 1962 by the noted horse-racing writer Whitney Tower pertaining to the upcoming Kentucky Derby.  In an age way before the Internet, the Derby was actually run on Saturday, May 5, 1962, but Sports Illustrated published the May 7, 1962 issue the previous week.

Tower informed his readers that the eight candidates with “valid credentials” were “Sir Gaylord and his stablemate, the brilliant filly Cicada, Ridan, Sir Ribot, Decidedly, Sunrise County, Admiral’s Voyage and Donut King.  Add to this list Crimson Satan, though his excuses for losing are now wearing thinner than a second-hand kimono, and Royal attack. Clearly, the number of legitimate choices is limited.”

Tower focused his assessment on Sir Gaylord:

“The role of Derby favorite will almost certainly go to Sir Gaylord, who won last week’s Stepping Stone at Churchill Downs—a seven-furlong prep—by nearly two lengths over Sir Ribot.  Out of action since suffering an ankle injury at Hialeah after he won the Everglades, Sir Gaylord came within two-fifths of a second of the track record and was then officially timed over the Derby distance in 2:02 2/5.  (But a horseman sitting beside [trainer] Casey Hayes, who trains Sir Gaylord for Christopher T. Chenery, clocked the colt running out the mile in 1:34 3/5 and the mile and a quarter in 2:01 4/5.)  For a horse that had not raced in over two months that was impressive, to say the least.”

On the Friday morning before the Derby, heartbreak for Sir Gaylord’s connections ensued as the colt suffered a career-ending hairline fracture in his right foreleg.  Chenery, his owner, could have substituted future Hall-of-Famer Cicada in his place, but opted to run her in the Kentucky Oaks, which she won.

Sir Gaylord was impeccably bred, by the brilliant Turn-To and out of the Princequillo mare Somethingroyal, also the dam of Secretariat.  Thus Sir Gaylord was a half brother to Secretariat (sired by Bold Ruler).

It was no surprise that the blue-blooded Sir Gaylord was a highly successful sire in the United States and France, with his progeny including Sir Ivor, who won the 1968 Epsom Derby and became a champion broodmare sire in his own right.

The star-crossed Sir Gaylord won ten races from 18 starts and had earnings of $237,404, equivalent to nearly $2 million in 2017 dollars.  He died in France in 1981.

Intriguing questions abound in Kentucky Derby history:  What if Sir Gaylord had been able to run in the race?  Or Cicada in his place?

Copyright © 2017 Horse Racing Business

The series on Kentucky Derby history began on February 20 and ends on May 1.


On February 28, 2017, Churchill Downs, Inc. (CHDN) reported its operating results for the 2016 fiscal year, which commenced on January 1, 2016 and ended on December 31, 2016.

CHDN operates in six business segments:

  • Horse Racing, consisting of live racing at Churchill Downs, Arlington Park, and Fair Grounds Race Course.  Calder Race Course in Miami is owned by CHDN, but is managed by the Stronach Group.
  • Casinos, including five casinos, two hotels, a 50% stake in Miami Valley Gaming, and a 25% stake in Saratoga Holdings.  CHDN has gaming positions (slot machines, video poker, and table games) in seven states.
  • TwinSpires, the largest, legal mobile platform for online betting on horse racing in the United States and includes related businesses such as BRIS (handicapping information).
  • Big Fish Games, a global producer and distributor of social casino, casual, and mid-core free-to-play premium paid games for PC, MAC, and mobile devices.
  • Other Investments in such companies as United Tote.
  • Corporate.

In 2016, CHDN had aggregate net revenue of $1.3 billion compared to $1.21 billion in 2015.  Diluted earnings per share were $6.42 in 2016 versus $3.71 in 2015.

Net revenue for each of the six business segments were (in millions of dollars): Horse Racing, $268.1; Casinos, $332.8; TwinSpires, $221.9; Big Fish Gaming, $486.2; Other Investments, $20.8; and Corporate, $1.0.

Total EBITDA for CHDN in 2016 was $334.5 million.  The percentage shares of EBIDTA for the segments were:  Horse Racing, 23.8% ; Casinos, 37.6%; TwinSpires, 16.5%; Big Fish Gaming, 23.6% ; Other Investments, less than 1%; and Corporate, -2.4%.

When the horse racing and online betting segments are combined, they account for 38% of aggregate net revenue and 40% of total EBIDTA.

The five-year performance of CHDN common stock was far above average.  A $100 investment in CHDN stock on December 31, 2011 would have grown to $302.92 by the end of 2016.  By contrast, a $100 investment in the S & P 500 index would have been worth $191.18 and a $100 investment in the Russell 2000 index of small-capitalization stocks would have increased to $196.45.

Copyright © 2017 Horse Racing Business