Tuesday, July 17, 2007

Number Of Starts Related To Health Of Racing?

"i was reading about the number of starts foreign horses have verses their American and Canadian counterparts // i was wondering just what is the story is here // what is the typical number of starts for European, Japanese, Hong Kong, and Arab world horses ? // how do they compare to American and Canadian horses ?// does it make for better racing ? // does it make for more superior horses overseas ? // thanks // chicago gerry"

Excellent questions from gerry. I am not all that familiar with racing in Asia so I will try to answer his queries as best as I can with just comparisons from Europe and America. Just as a side note whenever I mention Europe I will be talking about England, France and Ireland as a collective group.

Racing in North America is very different from racing in Europe, not just in the differences of training techniques and pre-race rituals but in the overall health of the industry. In North America we are always searching for the holy grail, that one thing that will stop the decay and restore the sport to its former glory. While in Europe things go on as they always have.

If you simply compare the numbers North American racing does not look all that bad. the Average number of starts made by horses in North America in 2005 was 6.4 compared to 5.8 in Europe. As well the average number of starts made by American Horse of the Years was 7.6 while Europe's top stars ran 6.7 times on average. Every statistic available points to the fact that North American horses make more starts per year than European horses. So why are we in turmoil while they seem fine?

I think the difference is that North American racing is in decline compared to previous years while European racing is largely the same. In the 1950's horses in North America averaged 10.91 starts per year. The Horse of the Years from that era averaged 16.6 starts per season. Lifetime starts on average for the top horses from each year spanning 1938-1947 was 47.3 while a comparative study of current careers yields an average of roughly 17.2 starts. Across the board the decline is major. North American horses are running virtually half as much as they used to do which has contributed to a paltry average field size of 8.2.

Europeans on the other hand have remained virtually constant. It is actually incredible to note that in terms of scheduling and campaigning the European horse has been unchanged for a century. It was highly irregular for a horse to make as many as 10 starts in a single season. Sea Bird II, considered by many to be the best European horse ever, made only 8 career starts. The top 10 horses of the last century as rated by the Bloodhorse shows an average of 31.9 career starts per horse. Only Seattle Slew had less than 20 starts. Conversely a glance over the top 10 Timeform rated horses shows an average of just 12.2. Not a single horse had more than 20 starts. Europeans don't see their sport as one in decline because their horses never did run what we would call "full" campaigns. The only real change to the European stakes calender in this era is that it is now fashionable for top horses to compete overseas in big races like the Breeders Cup, Japan Cup, Hong Kong Gold Cup and Dubai World Cup races. So if anything, top stars are racing more than they used to.

It is important to note that European horses make less starts for a specific reason. Their racing season effectively begins in mid-April and ends in the first week of November. They race only 7 months of the year while American racing never stops.

It is my personal belief that in North America we have an over saturation. We have too many races and too many stakes races. There are roughly 470 stakes races in America alone, Europe has only 290. Because of the sheer number of races we run our field size is in massive decline. It is my opinion that America would benefit from a more European model.

First they need to cut down the amount of races they run. A card of 10 races is quite long. In Europe they run just 6 races a day. They also need to reduce the amount of racing dates they have and create more showpeice meets. Saratoga, Keeneland and Del Mar do very well because they are short meets. They have an aura of exclusivity and the draw to fans and horses is much better than the average meet that seemingly offers racing every day of the year.

I think North American racing would benefit greatly from an off season. I know the weather allows us to race year round but every sport has an off season and I think it helps to create more interest. An event is not special if you have it every day, a time of abstinence builds anticipation and actually forces the connections of horses to give their charges a genuine rest from racing. I personally don't think it automatically creates better horses but it does make fresher ones and would help in cutting down wear and tear injuries.

Having less races also will help in increasing field size. The average European race has 11.3 starters while America has 8.2. The more horses you have in a race, the more the attractive it looks as a wagering proposition. Handle would surely increase with larger fields and especially when it comes to graded stakes. Money always comes in for big events with nice fields. With less big stakes races to point at the top contenders will have to face each other more often. No more 4 horse Acorns or 5 horse United Nations. Those races were a significant opportunity lost for racing. People like to bet G-1's but they don't like 4 horse fields.

European racing is healthier because it offers a better day to day product. Americans seem to be reliant upon the notion that in order to be healthy we need to see our stars running 12 times a year. Europeans have never had that and yet are fine with it. They seem to enjoy the season just as it is.

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