Was Scratch of Horse at Charles Town Warranted?

Yesterday, social media was all abuzz over a horse named Awesome Actor, who was entered in tonight’s fourth race — a waiver claiming (think starter allowance) event — at Charles Town Racetrack in Charles Town, West Virginia.

I say “was” because, thanks in large part to pressure brought to bear by racing fans mobilized by social media, the horse was ordered scratched by the state stewards yesterday evening.

Why? Well, that’s where it gets tricky.

Most of the furor seems to stem from the fact that Awesome Actor hasn’t raced since Dec. 23, 2010 — back when Lukas Forchhammer actually was seven years old (not really, but you get the point).

Making the situation even worse was the fact that the James Williams trainee hadn’t been competitive in any of his “recent” races, having finished last in each of his past three starts, and he showed one nondescript work since his last race.

Awesome-Actor

(Past performances compiled via data from Brisnet.)

Despite this, the horse’s owner, James King, was “pissed off” about the steward’s decision, believing that his horse would have crushed his rivals if allowed to run.

“He’s a well-bred horse, he’s been training, he’s in great condition, and I think he would have beat those horses by six or seven lengths, even coming out of the 10 hole,” King told the Daily Racing Form’s Matt Hegarty.

“This is so unfair,” King continued. “The horse was doing great, and I put a lot of money and care into him.”

I’ve got to admit, I’m torn over this case.

On one hand, I think King has a point — not about the horse winning, as I will show shortly I think his confidence in his charge was misplaced (at least statistically speaking), but I’m very uncomfortable with people with no intimate knowledge of the situation, i.e. folks on social media, essentially calling the shots. (And, mind you, I call many of those people friends… so I suspect I will hear from them for saying this.)

On the other hand, King’s timing here is awful, coming in the wake of a widely-reported and thoroughly rLog Outeprehensible case of abuse relating to a horse named Dr. Drip.

The problem, as always, is that horses can’t speak for themselves, so we don’t know how Awesome Actor feels about racing again after 6 ½ years on the sidelines.

Of course, the concern, at least among my friends, is that the 11-year-old could hurt himself after such an extended period of relative inactivity. In his DRF piece, Hegarty notes that “data collected over the last several years have identified horses coming off long layoffs as having a higher risk of injury,” so there seems to be a good reason for such concerns.

Then too, we’ve witnessed numerous human athletes return to competition even as their eroding skills and aging bodies were begging them to reconsider. As a Denver resident and fan of Peyton Manning, I can tell you that watching his final year in the NFL was like viewing the final act of “Romeo and Juliet” over and over and over again — except, instead of poison, Romeo stabbed himself in the heart with an ice pick, often missing entirely for lack of arm strength.

Again, though, we don’t know what Awesome Actor wants.

Now, I don’t have statistics on injuries, but I do have numbers showing that horses returning to the races after a year or more on the sidelines are at a severe competitive disadvantage. A study encompassing nearly 70,000 races run at racetracks all across North America produced the following results:

  • Horses returning to the races following a layoff of 365 days or more.

Number: 2,655
Wins: 197
Win Rate: 7.4%
$2 Net Return: $0.90

To put these digits into perspective, consider that a random horse in a random race produces a $2 net payoff of about $1.48.

And it gets worse.

When I pared the list above to only those horses six years of age or older, here’s what I got:

  • Horses returning to the races following a layoff of 365 days or more.
  • Six years old or greater.

Number: 976
Wins: 43
Win Rate: 4.4%
$2 Net Return: $0.49 

Of course, none of this proves that horses like Awesome Actor shouldn’t compete. After all, 43 such animals in my study won, including Haverhill, a 9-year-old gelding that triumphed at Fort Erie on Sept. 27, 2016.

 

Haverhill

(Past performances compiled via data from Brisnet.)

If any horse looked like an injury risk, it was this guy. He’d been away from the races for over two years, was dropping severely in class and, despite four workouts at Fort Erie, hadn’t showed up on the work tab in 18 days.

Yet, the son of Saffir was bet down to 9-2 (from a morning line of 12-1) and won in gritty fashion. (Before breaking out the party hats, it should be noted that Haverhill has not raced since, leaving one to speculate as to why.)

So, what do you think? Were the stewards correct in their decision to bar Awesome Actor from racing or should he have been allowed to compete?

Should Awesome Actor Have Been Scratched From Tonight’s Fourth Race at Charles Town?

Yes.
No.
I don’t know.

Survey Maker

 

Derek Simon
Derek Simon is the Senior Editor and Handicapper at US Racing.
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