Sunday, March 8, 2020

The Horse Racing Profit Motive

I was flipping through an Ontario standardbred program recently and noticed a horse had been claimed five times in a row, with all races in the same class. This is nothing too new - for years claiming a horse and not moving it up in class was the norm, but back about a decade ago things changed.

At that time, the powers that be made a an owner move up a horse when claimed. This was done for the protection of the health and welfare of the horse, and the associations were clear on that. Expelling the "rent a horse" phenomenon was viewed as a step forward, and the powers were proud of it.

Then it all changed. Horsepeople groups and others complained - not being able to jam a horse hurt the profit of the claiming game, for the claiming trainer, so they said. Because slots were nixed, and making money was harder than it was, the regulators caved and changed back the rule.

This type of policy is something we've seen at times - maybe too often - in racing. Do something, or propose something that may help, then see it reversed, or shelved.

Keeneland trumpeted a new surface to help the health and welfare of the horse; sang the positive results....... then Keeneland changed the surface to a less-safe one, because of profit concerns. Horse retirement is talked about often and whimsically, until the bill comes.

I, like most of you, are not anti-profit, because in the real world the profit motive is pretty damn impressive. When it first took hold around 1800, its effects were mind-boggling. Economic historians will talk about it for thousands of years.

And this system has floated the boats of even the most vulnerable in equally impressive ways - 90% (standardized measures) of the world lived in poverty in 1800; in 2020, less than 10% do.

In horse racing, this motive surely works as it is designed in my stable or yours, but for the most vulnerable - the horses - maybe not so much. For them, the profit motive enabled by weak-kneed regulators and participants with little foresight doesn't seem to be working well at all.

Have a nice day everyone.

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