It may feel to the casual observer as though crop violations have made news left and right since the Horseracing Integrity and Safety Act’s first round of regulations went into effect on July 1. Data presented by the Horseracing Integrity and Safety Authority this week suggests that they’re actually quite uncommon.
Ann McGovern, HISA director of racetrack safety, provided the statistics alongside racetrack safety standing committee chair Dr. Sue Stover at this week’s 48th Annual Global Symposium on Racing in Tuscon, Ariz.
When looking races run between July 1 and Oct. 31, Authority stewards found whip use violations in less than 1 percent of the total number of starts taking place around the country during that time. When the data was broken down by week, the average offense rate had dropped closer to .5% of total starts. Among those riders receiving whip use violations thus far, 64% have had only one violation, with very few receiving three or more.
“The take-home message is that once a jockey has a violation … they learn from the process,” said Stover.
Authority staff also ran some numbers to see whether the new whip use regulations were changing race outcomes. They examined average winning times by race distance (in furlongs) for the same period of July through October in 2021 and 2022, testing the hypothesis that fewer allowed strikes would result in slower finishing times. At most distances, there was no statistically significant difference in the finish times between 2021 and 2022; in a couple of longer-distance categories, times this year were actually slightly faster.
Then, the team looked at the finish position of horses who were favored at the start of a race. Again, they found no statistically significant difference in those average finish positions.
The team also presented some limited data from its first few months of a national voided claim policy.
When broken out by claiming price, horses running for a $5,000 tag had more voided claims under the new policy than other price points, with between 40 and 45 voided claims so far at that price. The HISA void claim policy requires claims be voided if a horse is determined unsound in the test barn, experiences epistaxis, or has a post-race medication violation. These conditions are in addition to the policies many tracks already had in place voiding a claim in case of a horse dying on the track or being vanned off. Some states had void claim policies prior to July 1, while others had none.
McGovern cautioned that there isn’t yet enough data on void claims to draw broad conclusions on what it means about soundness.
“What this is showing you is that the largest number of [voided] claims by price is in the $5,000 range,” said McGovern. “This chart alone may not tell us a lot more than what we’d expect to see. When we look at this over a period of time we want to look at this as a percentage of claims in proportion to the number of races run in that category. We don’t have enough data to do that as well as we’d like to right now.”
Stover added that the majority of claims that have been voided so far around the country were due to post-race unsoundness, with epistaxis as the second most common reason.