de Kabat Racing Research

Specialist in statistical research for the Thoroughbred industry

Racing’s Customers

Market research in Australia suggests that on average a business loses about 20% of it’s customers a year, and the majority of these are lost through dissatisfaction with the product and service offered. In order to retain these customers, a business must understand them better and take responsibility to ensure that this information is fed to the people who can implement improvements based on it. In addition to this, businesses spend on average 10 times as much getting new customers as it does retaining old ones. So how does this translate for the racing industry? In order for racing to understand its customers better, it first must know who they are.

External Customers
These are the customers who pay to be a part of the industry. Without these customers, the industry will not continue to operate.
Owners – these customers own the racing product. They pay all the costs associated with providing the base product of the industry. They are rewarded for this via stakes money.
Punters – these customers use the racing product as a form of entertainment. They spend money with the reward of a return on this gaming investment.
Sponsors – these customers use the racing product as a form of advertising. They are rewarded by exposure to the public for their brand.

Internal Customers
These are the customers who gain an income from being part of the industry. They provide a service to the external customers. Their needs include being able to complete their job to a level that encourages the external customers to continue to pay for their services.
Racing Australia (or State Principle Racing Authorities)

Other Service Providers (farriers, vets, trucks, etc)
The success of these customers is primarily reflected in the level of business that they attract and retain.

Benchmarks of success for external customers
To know when customers are being provided with successful service, some benchmarks need to be set. This also sets some basic expectations that these customers may have.

External customers
Owners – the easiest way to tell if owners are satisfied can be measured by looking at the number of horses racing. To talk about the number of owners can be misleading as many horses have multiple owners, and there seems to be trend towards more horses being syndicate owned. The number of horses racing in NZ has dropped by 10.7% from 1992 to 2003. This data points to owners being unsatisfied with the industry. This is hardly surprising when the cost recovery for owners has dropped from 42 cents (1970 McCarthy Commission Report) to 11 cents (2004 NZRB IER report). While these statistics point to a reduction in the number of horses raced, and much reduced cost recovery for owners, they do not tell us how many old owners are leaving the industry and are being replaced with new owners. This turnover rate of ownership would reveal more about the state of satisfaction that owners are getting from the industry, than the raw figures can suggest.
Punters – turnover is the best way to show if punters are happy with the service they are getting. Turnover on all forms of racing has increased by 9% from 1996 to 2004 (official TAB figures). However, when adjusting these figures for inflation using official NZ Govt figures, this becomes a decrease of 5%. To put this decrease into context, this would need to be analysed against the full gaming market – but on face value, the conclusion would be that racing is losing market share of the gaming dollar.
Sponsors – this can be measured by the level of sponsorship throughout the country and whether these sponsors a) continue to sponsor racing and b) increase the level of funding support.

So how does this relate to owners?
Owners are taken for granted in this industry, with the emphasis on the internal customers by the racing industry media. How often do we hear about the first group winner for such and such trainer, but little is heard about the owner of that horse. So how do racehorse owners ensure that they are getting proper customer service from the industry and from their service providers? This is most easily measured by measuring the service provided to owners by the industry’s internal customers. On an individual basis, owners should be asking themselves the following types of questions:
Is the communication from your trainer/syndicate manager regular and informative? Do you feel involved with your racehorse? Can you visit your horse when it takes your fancy? Are problems with your horse adequately explained by your trainer/syndicate manager? Is your opinion taken into account when a decision needs to be made about your horse’s future? Do you feel welcome when arriving on course to watch your horse? Do you feel that the costs you pay are justified and are in line with costs paid by other owners? Are the industry leaders doing enough to increase stakes money return to owners? Is it understood why owners become involved in the industry and how can those reasons be used to increase the level of ownership?

This is an old post from 2005.

Racehorse Retirement

In February 2016, Trent Masenhelder interviewed Renée about research done on racehorse retirement.


Modern racing is finding itself more and more embattled, thanks in part to vigorous anti-racing campaigns. However, in 2013, the Australian Racing Board armed itself with its own facts on the retirement of racehorses. Trent Masenhelder spoke to researcher Renée Geelen, who was commissioned to gather accurate, representative data on the 11,000 racehorses, of some 17,000 born annually, that are retired in Australia every year.

The full interview is here.

Black Caviar retires to stud

When a champion mare retires, the whole world has an opinion about which stallion she should be sent to.  The romantics would send her to another recently retired champion, eg Frankel or Pierro, the two horses that are getting the most media attention.
With a background in science, I prefer a more rational approach.

Full article here:

Footnote:  Black Caviar’s owners decided on Exceed and Excel for her first mating. This filly has been named Oscietra.

What happens to all those racehorses?

In October 2014, I was asked by the National Museum of Australia to write a piece about retired racehorses for their exhibition: Spirited: Australia’s Horse Story exhibition.
The full article is here.

History of the Name

The name, de Kabat (pronounced d’ KAA bit), is derived from Hungarian and means the cloak or mantle.

de Kabat is named after an ancestor of Renee, Ivan de Kabat, who was an eye specialist during the reign of Tsar Alexander II.

Ivan cured the Tsar’s sister-in-law of an eye disease and was given a title (an inheritable knighthood). This title was the highest honour given to non-aristocracy and allowed him entry, at the lowest level, to the aristocratic class.

Ivan’s oldest son died of an injury sustained in the last week of the battle for Shipka Pass (in Turkey) and the title passed to Ivan’s other son, also called Ivan. Ivan de Kabat was fairly wealthy (a banker) and he owned several properties around Russia, perhaps the most famous is the de Kabat villa in Kisdlovodsk. This villa still stands and is currently owned by the Ukranian Government and is used as a holiday house for parliamentary officials. He was married but had no heir.

To gain an heir, he adopted his sister, Marie’s (who had married a Dutchman and artist Eugene Geelen), youngest son – Jean Jacques Geelen. Jean Jacques relinquished his dutch citizenship and name to take up the title and property. Unfortunately shortly after his marriage to Xenia, the Russian revolution struck. Jean Jacques decided that it wasn’t prudent to be a de Kabat, so took up the Geelen name again. Jean Jacques and his family, however, now had no citizenship, but he managed to convince the Dutch to take him back. Jean Jacques died aged 57 leaving behind Xenia and four boys.

Alexander, the oldest boy, was born in Helsinki while it was still part of Russia. After the revolution, Finland declared it’s independence from Russia and Alex was issued with a new birth certificate. This certificate had a new name (following the switch from de Kabat back to Geelen by Jean Jacques), a new birth place (using Helsinki rather than the Russian version, Helsingfors) and a new date (Finland adopted the Gregarian calendar, not the Julianian as was previously used in Russia). Alex was a university student during WWII in Holland. He hid for most of the war in a basement doing jigsaw puzzles, but was eventually “captured” and relocated to a German work camp. Here he did jobs like cleaning up ammunitions factories. He escaped about a week before the war ended and arrived in Holland at his uncles place the day after the war ended. Later, Alex married Mieke Heybrook (though the dual birth certificates made it challenging) and moved to New Zealand with their young family. Alex worked as an engineer for ECNZ while in New Zealand.

Their oldest son, Janic and current title holder, is the father of Renee. Janic, a schoolteacher, enjoys a place in the New Zealand Who’s Who as an author and aircraft historian. He is also a keen family historian and this story is thanks to his efforts in researching the family’s interesting history.

Information courtesy of Janic Geelen.

Defending the VRC Derby

The Victoria Derby run in spring over 2500m is an elusive race. It takes a precocious stayer to win, and pushes trainers to the edges of their ability in our sprint focused nation. One matter is consistent; every year a portion of racing pundits call the for VRC Derby to be shortened in distance.

Yet almost every year, the race provides the racing industry with a good horse.  In the last twenty years, only three of those twenty winners have won no other stakes race.  Those twenty winners have won a further 21 Gr.1 races around the world.  And that’s not counting the other stakes races they have won along the way.

The full article can be viewed in Bluebloods magazine or in pdf here: vrc-derby

Archived Articles

A dog may be man’s best friend, but the horse wrote history.  ~Anon

All writing is a way of preserving some history, and the articles on this page are de Kabat Racing Research’s little contribution to that effort. These articles, unless stated otherwise, are written by Renée Geelen.

I will be placing all my archived articles onto this new site over time.

The Age of Misinformation

Misinformation about racing flows freely on the internet, and many people in racing dismiss it as being “only a few people” or “everyone knows that it’s not true”.  Racing is a high profile sport that needs to make sure its public profile is maintained, and not sullied by wild misinformation spread on the net.  We should all take this misinformation seriously because the people reading it are our future customers.  Racing will always need people who want to come to the races for a day out, who will punt on the outcome and who will buy shares in a horse hoping to own a piece of the next champion.  These people need to know the reality of how much care and attention are given to racehorses, from the moment they are conceived, during their racing careers and after.

This article was published in Breeding & Racing in September 2014. You can see it here.


Animal Welfare vs Animal Rights

Animal Welfare: The understanding that humans and animals have evolved in partnership and humans have a responsibility to care for their animals.

Animal Rights: The belief that all species are equal and humans have enslaved animals for their use.


Photo: 2016 Savabeel – The First Lady foal at Westbury Stud, NZ

Scientists tend to agree that the domestication of animals was mutually beneficial to both parties.  And to overly simply evolution, the domestic animals have succeeded to produce large numbers of themselves thanks to humans while less friendly animals have failed and are facing extinction.

The starting point for this partnership is still under discussion.  Initially, the theory of human agricultural evolution was that we selected animals and kept them for food, but scientists are now wondering if it was in fact the other way around.  About 43,000 years ago, humans were the number one hunter and fossil records show that we had already eradicated the other major predators.  Yet, we simultaneously hunted wolves and bred some to create the domestic dog.  This opposing standpoints here have made several scientists wonder if they chose us, not the other way around.  By hanging around humans, wolves had an easy food source, and if they behaved in a friendly fashion, then humans tolerated them creating the long process of evolution from wolf into dog.

From these early successes, it is likely that humans then found ways to work with other animals and therefore creating, eventually, modern society.

But regardless of how we got to where we are, there are two buzz words that matter to everyone who works in an animal related business, or has a pet, or eats.  Welfare vs Rights.

Animal welfare is about ensuring that animals are healthy and cared for.  Thankfully, most people understand the relationship with animals, and look after them properly.   Criticism often comes towards industries that are perceived to use animals for gain and or profit.  But here is where animals and humans work together.  Any decent chef will tell you that a healthy animal tastes better, and will pay a premium for animals that are better cared for.  Aside from the normal emotional relationship between a farmer and his animals, this gives added advantage to farmers with better welfare.  In the racing industry, the horses are protected through industry regulations with regards to fitness, health and drugs.  For Australia, this includes no drugs on race day, highly regulated racing rules (for safety) and the use of medicine in training to aid with healing, regeneration and in illness prevention and cure.

If all of this makes sense, why the fuss about welfare?  Because a few humans are indecent, so society must legislate against abuses towards animals.  Organisations who provide animal shelters, or re-homing, see the worst cases and these hard working people need to be backed up by adequate regulation.

Contrast these ideas to animal rights.  Sometimes the line between welfare and rights is blurry, for example, the RSPCA and vegetarians who tend towards not eating animals, but eggs, cheese and fish are ok.  But often, animal rights is based in a base belief that all species are equal; speciesism.  Essentially, this means that animals have the same rights as humans, and that humans who work with animals, or have a pet, are enslaving that animal for their own gain.

In some ways, this is easy to understand.  Animal rights is the belief that all animals, including humans, have a right to a free life without being used by another species.  This belief in animal rights is the baseline for a vegan.  To live your life without impacting on another species.  No eating meat, no butter or cheese or eggs or fish, no leather, no vaccines, no organic vegetables (which use animal products for fertiliser), etc.  Many people live this life while also ensuring that they don’t impact on other humans through religious style fervour.

There appear to be two separate schools of thought amongst animal rights extremists.  One is the PETA model that believes that all life is suffering, therefore animals are better off dead.  PETA founder Ingrid Newkirk says that PETA shelters give animals “the gift of euthanasia” – to the tune of over 85% of animals sent to the shelters for re-homing.  On average, each animal is given two days to find a home, then it is given “the best gift they’ve ever had”.  Newkirk is even quoted as saying “we do not advocate ‘right to life’ for animals”.

At the other extreme are the zealots who want to free animals from human enslavement.   One version of this is a group called Voiceless who believe that animals should have the same legal rights as humans.  This means that a vet who humanely puts down a severely injured horse can be prosecuted for murder.  It also means that a huntsman spider can be prosecuted for murdering a cockroach – unless it doesn’t apply to insects.  Then it only means that a pet cat can be prosecuted for murdering the neighbour’s guinea pig.  Using horses for racing, or animals for pets is to infringement on their right to freedom.

And all of these arguments only relate to domesticated animals.  It is a whole other discussion to look at how humans should treat endangered animals.  Habitat conservation, breeding programs (although animal rights people would say that this is another form of slavery), eradicating imported pests (such as cane toads).


I say – concentrate on welfare, not rights.  Species are not equal.  Some are predators, some are prey and some have evolved alongside humans to create today’s society.  We should enjoy that relationship and do our very best to look after our animals in the best of health using the best that modern medicine and veterinary care can provide.  Be humane.  Choose welfare, not rights.


First published: 8 October 2015

Blog at

Up ↑