Playing the percentages--after the fact

April 21, 1991|By Marty McGee

Dr. Robert Lawrence, a University of Louisville professor, annually conducts a far-ranging review of race purses in North America.

So, from the Dept. of You May Not Care, But At Least Now You Know, here are some of the nuggets Lawrence uncovered in his review of 1990:

* Horses making exactly 10 starts earned the most per start ($1,400). Horses making more than 21 starts made the least per start ($527).

* Of the 89,722 horses to start at least once, 14,321 (16 percent) did not earn a check.

* If it costs $15,000 to keep a horse in training for a year (a fair gauge for Maryland), only 14 percent paid for their upkeep. Average earnings were $8,638, while median earnings were $2,376.

* The richest races are for good horses at longer distances -- one reason why the average purse for 1 1/4 -mile races was 10 times that for six-furlong races. And, 24.5 percent of races were longer than a mile but accounted for 40 percent of purses.

* Less than 5 percent of runners won more than three races.

* Nearly four of 10 races were restricted to females.

* Proportionally, races for 2- and 3-year-olds offer more purse money. However, 5-year-olds had the highest average earnings.

* Like humans, the most money goes to a select few. The top 107 earners (less than 0.1 percent) averaged $586,533.

Lawrence's exhaustive study was recently published in the Thoroughbred Times.

As his 65th birthday approaches, there has been speculation that Larry Abbundi -- for 26 years the racing secretary at Pimlico and Laurel race courses -- will retire.

"Do I come of retirement age on [July 2]?" Abbundi asked. "Yes, I do. Do I feel like retiring? No, I don't.

"Circumstances will govern what happens. If everything keeps going well, if management is satisfied, if the horsemen are satisfied . . . I do have to say no now."

Joe De Francis, president of both tracks, said: "I've never believed in mandatory retirement at 65. I have an outstanding rapport and relationship with Larry Abbundi. Any decision to retire is his own personal decision. I certainly hope that he wants and intends to stay on as long as is reasonably possible."

According to a lengthy Sports Illustrated article bemoaning the current state of thoroughbred racing: In 1974, 35 percent of U.S. gross gambling revenues were generated by racetracks.

In 1989, racetracks accounted for less than 10 percent of gross gambling revenues.

Soon after Kent Desormeaux arrived in California last year, the former Maryland star was greeted by a fan of his.

"This gentleman walks up to me," Desormeaux recalled, "and says: 'Hi Kent, glad to meet you. I've been watching you ride and it's a pleasure meeting you.' "

"I said, 'I'm sorry, sir, but who are you?' "

The man and everyone within earshot burst into laughter.

It was Merv Griffin.

"I wanted to crawl up and hide in a corner," said Desormeaux. "It was the most embarrassing thing for me, but it was funny as all get-up for him. In southern Louisiana [where Desormeaux is from], you just watched a show, but in Los Angeles, you have to know who's who because you run into them all the time."

Desormeaux, 21, continues to recover from a broken wrist suffered in a spill at Santa Anita last month, but he may be able to return to the saddle as early as Saturday. During his recuperation, he served as a guest analyst on the West Coast-based cable television network SportsChannel for two Santa Anita feature races.

The Lexington Stakes, being run today at Keeneland, has not often been an important Triple Crown prep race. But in two recent seasons, it's been a harbinger of greatness.

In 1984, He Is A Great Deal -- now there's a piece of trivia -- put an eight-length drubbing on Swale, who easily won the Kentucky Derby in his next start. Swale also won the Belmont Stakes, then died mysteriously eight days after his Belmont win.

In 1988, Risen Star beat Forty Niner, and the pair went on to become the top 3-year-olds of the year. Risen Star finished third in the Derby, won the Preakness and Belmont, then was retired. Forty Niner ran second in the Derby and later won the Haskell Invitational and Travers Stakes.

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