JC / Railbird

Research

Getting Raceday Drug Data

Trainer Glenn Thompson proposes an experiment (PDF):

The idea is to have 10 racetracks across the country have 2 races per day that are drug free or limit the drugs. These races will either have a bonus for the trainers or simply enhance the purses so we get the maximum participation. Have 2yo, 3yo, 4yo and up, fillies and colts, long and short. Have races where pre-race meds are allowed but no lasix, have races where nothing is allowed at all. After each race, every horse in the race is scoped by a Racing Commision Vet and have the records very well documented. In three months we will have a 10,000-12,000 horse research project that will let us know exactly where we stand and let us know for sure what needs to be done. We will not be counting on some small study that was done in South Africa years ago. I know that this will be a very expensive experiment but feel that it is the most important thing we can do and hope that the racing community can pitch in and get it done.

High-Class Runners

Via Thoroughbred Times, an academic study confirms that higher-class racemares produce higher-class offspring. (Interesting, and must-reading for anyone doing late-night kitchen-table broodmare research.) Faster mares, stakes winners or not, also produced above-average foals. Using Equibase speed ratings, the University of Louisville researchers found, “Speed is the breeder’s friend…. comparing speedy dams to slower dams reveals that the speed of the dam is highly statistically significant …”

Plucky Mrs. Bagwill

In advance of a possible piece on the Lady Legends race, in which eight retired female jockeys will ride in the fourth race at Pimlico on Friday to benefit the Komen Foundation, I’ve been doing a bit of research on women jockeys in American racing. With the library packed up in preparation for a move, making it difficult to get to “The Lady Is a Jock” and other sources, I’m relying on what I can find through Google, the New York Times, and the DRF Archive at Keeneland, which yielded an interesting tidbit about an early “jockette.”

In January, I came across Miss Milfred, a young woman looking for work as a jockey in 1892 Chicago. Nothing more has turned up on Frances Milfred, but in 1898, there appears a Mrs. Bagwill. Notes the DRF of October 4:

Probably the only female jockey in the world is riding in running races on the Pacific Coast circuit. She is a Mrs. Bagwill, twenty-four years old, weight 101 pounds, and resides at Carson City, Nev. At the recent Nevada State Fair she won two of her five mounts. Mrs. Bagwill wears the regulation jockey costumes in races and rides astride.

Mrs. Bagwill, female jockey, 1898The October 9, 1898 Kansas City Journal fills in a few more details, although, not her first name:

Six horses, straining every nerve and splendidly ridden by some of the best jockeys of this country, raced swiftly around the track at Reno, Nev., at the last meeting, and came down the stretch in magnificent style. Of the three horses first under the wire the last was ridden by a woman who, sitting astride, plied whip and spur in masterly style, and clearly outrode her competitors.

The woman was Mrs. Bagwill, a native of Nevada, who is probably the only female jockey in the world.

Her experience as a jockey has not been very extensive, but of the five races in which she has ridden twice has her horse come in a winner, and never has she ridden “outside” the money.

Mrs. Bagwill’s first attempt was at Carson City, when she rode third to Coates, sometimes known as “Pizen,” and Feathergill.

Mrs. Bagwill is 24 years of age and has been married for five years. She is of medium stature, petite in figure, but well proportioned and weighs 101 pounds. She is very modest and unassuming. When on the street, she dresses in plain black and from her appearance none would imagine that she ever assumed the part of a jockey.

She had an ambition to assist her husband, and being a good rider, decided that she could be more successful as a jockey than at anything else. In the saddle when ready for a race she wears bifurcated skirts, but fitting neatly.

And with that, Mrs. Bagwill, like Miss Milfred, recedes from history.

Surface to Surface

Comparing track profiles, Nick Kling finds something interesting in the data:

One thing the results make clear is that the purported gulf between the winning profiles at dirt and synthetic tracks is far less significant than believed. Note the narrow margin between routes at Belmont, Gulfstream, the Aqueduct main track, and Santa Anita’s synthetic surface.

Part of the reason for that is jockeys who ride regularly on synthetic tracks have adjusted to the nature of those surfaces. When Keeneland debuted its Polytrack in the fall of 2006 it appeared to be a stone-cold closers’ racetrack. Part of that perception, however, was its stark comparison to the old dirt surface at Keeneland, which featured an iron inside/speed bias most of the time.

There’s one caveat:

Nevertheless, don’t make the mistake of believing dirt and synthetic form is interchangeable. It is not. Dirt horses switching to the ersatz earth have done very poorly. Conversely, synthetic-based animals have done fairly well when they move to dirt.

That the move from synthetic from dirt is easier than that from dirt to synthetic is now conventional wisdom. The “results show that it is easier,” trainer John Sadler — who will start Santa Anita Derby winner Sidney’s Candy and Arkansas Derby winner Line of David in the Kentucky Derby — told Jay Privman earlier this month. But is that what the results show?

In April 2008, I did a bit of research that found of 61 Triple Crown nominees making the switch from a synthetic surface to a fast dirt track, 47 improved or replicated their synthetic form on dirt. Curious about horses going dirt to synthetic, I similarly went through this year’s Triple Crown nominees last week (before the Blue Grass Stakes), identifying 31 who started their careers on dirt before moving to a synthetic surface. As in 2008, I didn’t take into account changes in distance or class, and I classified synthetic starts as positive (meaning the horse showed improvement over its previous start on dirt), consistent (the horse ran a race much like its previous start), or negative (the horse ran poorly compared to its previous start). Of the 31 Triple Crown nominees who went from dirt to synthetic, 10 improved with the switch and 10 showed little change, with eight of those 20 winning winning their synthetic start. The remaining 11 ran worse. Most interesting to me about the 11 who ran worse was that eight of those horses started in the G1 Breeders’ Futurity at Keeneland or in the Breeders’ Cup, raising a couple of questions:

1) Fewer horses seem to move from dirt to synthetic than from synthetic to dirt, and may be more likely to do so for the purpose of entering a stakes race. Could class be more of a factor than the surface in the resulting performance?

2) When high profile dirt horses fail falter over synthetic surfaces, such as Street Sense in the 2007 Blue Grass Stakes or Curlin in the 2008 Breeders’ Cup Classic, the view that dirt to synthetic is more difficult is reinforced. Could such outcomes be skewing perceptions?

2.04 per 1000

On first reading, I thought there was an error in the headline of the press release: “Equine Injury Database Statistic Released by The Jockey Club.” But no, the Jockey Club did release just one statistic, and it is a sobering figure:

Based upon a year’s worth of data beginning November 1, 2008, from 378,864 total starts in Thoroughbred flat races at 73 racetracks … 2.04 fatal injuries were recorded per 1,000 starts.

TJC did not report the actual number of deaths, but the Courier-Journal did the math, coming up with:

… about 773 horse deaths, or an average of nearly 15 fatal injuries a week.

For comparison, the New York Times offers:

In England, for example, the average risk of fatality ranges from 0.8 to 0.9 per 1,000 starts. In Victoria, Australia, studies reported the risk of fatality from 1989 to 2004 at 0.44 per 1,000 starts.

More detailed data, although not track-by-track stats, will be released at the Welfare and Safety of the Racehorse Summit in June.

Miss Milfred’s Ambition

From the Saint Paul Daily Globe, August 10, 1892:

CHICAGO, ILL., Aug. 9. — Frances Milfred would like to be a jockey. She is from Missouri and knows how to handle a horse. Being fond of outdoor exercise and a lover of excitement, she is determined to do something besides play the typewriter or call “cash.” She is now visiting Chicago, and will not return to St. Joe unless she fails to secure a position with some owner of fast horses. It is her ambition to come down the stretch in a whipping finish and land her horse about two lengths ahead of Fox, Goodale, Overton, Penny and other slim-waisted young men who think they can ride.

Miss Milfred, after coming to Chicago a month ago, visited Washington Park and watched the flyers for several successive days. She lost $13.50 in cash ventures, but discovered a new sphere for women. The more she watched the races the more firmly she became convinced that she could learn to ride as well as any one else. Once she had been in the Kiralfy chorus and had made only $10 a week. When she heard that jockeys often made $100 for winning one race, that settled it.

Saturday evening the following “ad” appeared in one of the papers:

LADY aged twenty-five, from West, good rider, would like to learn to be a jockey. Address S. B. 84.

An encouraging letter addressed to S. B. 84 brought a reply that Miss Frances Milfred would be at home Monday at No. 17 Upton Street. There she was found, in the bottom flat, a brown-haired, slim young lady of pleasant features and a desire to explain her ambition.

“In the first place, my weight is all right,” said she. “With me it is a serious matter. I want to do something to make a living, and believe I would make a good jockey. Ever since I can remember I have been accustomed to handling horses. Four years ago I was counted the best rider in St. Joe, and once I won a race at a county fair. Do you see any reason why a young lady should not be a jockey? No. Neither do I. My folks would object, of course, but if I don’t succeed here I’m going East and try it.”

The original “jockette”?

Links for 2009-07-17

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