Horse racing

During Triple Crown season, I write data journalism about horse racing. I figure other people spend 3 hours every weekend watching football or baseball games. I spend two minutes watching a horse race, and use the time I save to analyze data and write about it.

I’ve written four articles on jockeys’ gender, race, and ethnicity. 90 percent of recreational riders are women, and women are about 7 times as likely as men to meet racing’s stringent weight requirements. Yet male jockeys outnumber female jockeys by 8 to 1 —  by 50 to 1 in top races — and many male jockeys ruin their health trying to keep their weights at levels that would be healthier for women.

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Unlike top jockeys, top exercise riders are often women–and often African American. In the week before the Kentucky Derby, 5 of the 20 horses were exercised by women, and 3 were exercised by black men. Here are two Kentucky Derby horses with their exercise riders.

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 Photo: Coady Photography. Article:

In fact, black men won half of the early Kentucky Derbies, and women have won the Belmont Stakes and major prep races. Yet since 2014, none of the jockeys who start the Kentucky Derby have been black or female. Why not?

Unlike women and black men, Hispanic men have had tremendous success as jockeys. The Latin invasion of horse racing started in the late 1950s, and now over half of all US jockeys — more in top races — have Latin American names.

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Contrary to popular wisdom, Latin Americans’ success is not due to their size. There are enough jockey-sized men–and an abundance of jockey-sized women–from other nationalities and ethnic groups. The success of Latin Americans in horse racing looks more like an immigrant niche. In addition, racing’s dangerous, insecure labor conditions have discouraged riders who have other career options.

I don’t always write about the jockeys. Sometimes I write about the races. Here’s an article I wrote just before American Pharoah won the first Triple Crown in 37 years. I didn’t predict that American Pharoah would necessarily complete the Triple Crown, but I liked his chances better than California Chrome’s. I liked Pharoah’s chances not because I thought he was a better horse than Chrome, but because Pharoah had fewer horses racing against him. (This year I like Justify’s chances for the same reason.)

I’ve also debunked various myths about Triple Crown races, including the myth that post position matters at the Kentucky Derby, and that today’s horses are less capable of going the distance at the Belmont Stakes.