Jason Beem's Thursday Column for Oct. 12, 2023

October 12th, 2023

A good Thursday morning to you all! I normally try to plan out these Thursday columns a week or so ahead of time just to have time to think and process a fair bit before I actually write them. I was tempted to do a reply to Mike Repole’s tweets this week soliciting opinions on things racing needs to change, but I kind of did that on the podcast the other day.

One thing I do think about quite a bit lately and wanted to write about today is how often or rather infrequently horses run now. We hear about it all the time in regards to horses at the higher levels, but I’m also curious how much more or less the average claiming horse is running. Tracks love to boast about purses going up and in general, I think it’s great when horsemen get to run for more money. From talking to some owners recently, it seems as though the cost of having a horse has gone through the roof. As many press releases as we see about purses going up, of course lately we haven’t seen those same releases about betting handle going up. Personally, I’m always much more concerned with that as a marker of how we’re doing as an industry as opposed to purses. Especially as the percentage of total handle is Computer-Assisted Wagering (CAW) handle.

So I went to Equibase and did a search for the leading horses this year in North America by starts. As of today, there’s one horse that’s run 20 times this year, and that’s Rascally Rebel. He’s a Maryland-bred who generally competes in $10,000 claiming events on the Maryland circuit. He was fifth just last week at Laurel Park, and he’s made just over $73,000 this year, so guessing he’s had a profitable year for his connections at the track in 2023. 

There are five horses domestically who have started 19 times this year, and all of them have won, with the exception of Plate It Up, an Ohio circuit runner who has hit the board four times but has yet to break through. I think most of us my age (43) or older remember seeing horses all the time at our local track who had 50 or more career starts. There were likely bunches of them on every card in the country. While handicapping Friday’s Sycamore S. at Keeneland, I noticed that the great Channel Maker will be making his 56th career start. It seems like he’s been around forever and runs all the time, and his 56 starts are clearly the most in a field that has lots of familiar names. Therapist will be making his 44th start in the Sycamore. Maybe the turf marathon division is a little more friendly to allowing horses to stay on the track longer and run more? Don’t see a ton of 40-plus-starter types in our dirt graded stakes.

One interesting factoid from my search was that none of the top 499 horses by starts this season had made more than $200,000. In fact, it was the 500th-ranked horse by starts, Liquidator (who’s run 13 times) who was the first on the list to eclipse $200,000 in earnings. So it’s clearly the lower-level horses who are running the most, and I don’t think that’s any grand discovery. I guess I was just surprised that not a single runner with 14 or more starts this year had gone over $200,000 in earnings. And there are 499 of them!

Are those horses just more durable? Are they running more than they should and maybe they’re at that level because of how often they run? I don’t know. I wish our horses nowadays were more durable and did compete more often. The foal crop issue continues to trend the wrong way, and horses running less just seems to magnify that number when looking at average field size.

My two favorite horses as a kid at Longacres were Captain Condo and Kent Green. The great Captain Condo won 30 times from 70 starts and made over $500,000. Kent Green ran 102 times and came up just shy of $400,000 in earnings. Wish we had more like those two nowadays.

Have a great weekend, everyone!