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Tuesday, March 30, 2010

Some Possible Solutions to Dilemmas Raised by the Thoroughbred Times' “All About Purses”

By Joe Santanna, National HBPA President and Chairman

Breed them. Sell them. Buy them. Train them. Race them. Retire them. It’s all about purses ...

Thank you, Ed DeRosa and the Thoroughbred Times for the annual “All About Purses” in the March 20, 2010 issue. It gives me an opportunity to review and digest our 2009 racing year with respect to purses, runners, races, starts, maidens, and the “mix” of races that represents North American racing.

My perspective is focused on the “claimers.” While no horse is bred to be a claimer, many become one. While no horse is purchased at a sale with the hope that it will be a claimer, many become one. I’ve raced horses in many lifetime conditioned low-to-mid claiming races where our competition included multiple six-figure sales ring purchases; it is just the way it happens.

So here are some revelations from the Thoroughbred Times data:

1. 7% of all runners (4,852 of 71,359) earn purses over $50,000, likely making the other 93% of runners a break-even (at best) business operation.

2. 40% of the $1.2 billion in 2009 purses were earned by that 7% elite group, while the other 93% shared 60% of the purses.

3. A staggering 81% of all runners (57,800 of 71,359) wine one or zero races. Over half (54.5%) of all runners that start during the year don’t win a single race.

4. 70% of all races are claiming races, and they share 40% of all purses. The 30% non-claiming races have directed their way the other 60% of all purses.

5. 30% of all races are maiden races and the purses offered to them amount to 25% of the total.

Claimers make up 71% of the 445,000 annual starts. Without them, we would have about 127,000 starts, and if we maintained an average field size of around eight (8), we’d be looking at approximately 16,000 races instead of 54,000 annually. Scary? To many of us, the answer is yes. To others, it could be a dream come true.

The tricky part is breeding or buying the “select” horses that make the cut. But we all know if it was that easy, we’d all be doing just that!

I may be on the absurd side of this issue. However, my emails and phone calls from a variety of industry participants (who subliminally contemplate ways to maintain only “quality racing”) prompts me to champion the cause of the claimer and the maiden.

So dedicate more purses monies to the claimers (revelation #4). Don’t just raise the bottom, be exclusionary, and think that solves the problem. A 70/40, 30/60 split can be tweaked without noticeable pain to the current “good side” of that equation.

Give the owner a chance to “get out” on their maiden by dedicating purses equal to the percentage of races offered (revelation #5) – a 30/30 split, not 30/25.

Redirect purse distribution for revelations #1 and #2 so more owners can survive.

I wish I could suggest a fix for revelation #3, but no competitive sport guarantees winners! “There are no free rides” (pardon the pun) should always prevail.

Finally, I encourage Mr. De Rosa to add another column to Table 3 in his article. If at all possible, it would be interesting to see “handle” figures in the same earnings ranges. Wouldn’t it be relative to know who “brings home the bacon?” – kind of a profit sharing plan based upon the rainmakers? It clearly works in the corporate world! Ed, is this possible? I hate to add more to the proverbial plate, but in the simple words of my Italian father, “Get a bigger plate if yours is so full.”

I’ve been informed that blogs should evoke responses based upon content. What do you think?

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