From protective vests to synthetic dirt, a number of small companies play a big role in the world of horse racing
Horse racing is a dangerous sport, for both horses and humans. To protect jockeys who fall from their mounts, Santa Anita stretches this blue safety netting, made by Los Angeles -- based Canvas Specialty, over the concrete surface between the grass and dirt tracks. Installed in the 1970s, the netting hasn't needed replacement and goes 10 years between repairs. Founded in 1942, the 55-employee company specializes in tents and fabric structures. It is run by brothers Greg and Richard Naiman.
During a race, horses apply up to 5,000 pounds of force per square inch of ground. That's why many racetracks have switched to synthetic, shock-absorbing surfaces, which reduce equine injuries compared with dirt tracks. Santa Anita's track is made with roughly 15,000 tons of material from Pro-Ride Racing, based in Yarra Glen, Australia. It's a patented mixture of sand, polymers, and cushioning agents. Ian Pearse founded Pro-Ride in 1985; it has seven employees.
When jockey Julie Krone was stepped on by a horse in a 1993 race, she credited a vest with saving her life. Not just any vest: a lightweight, foam, Tipperary-brand vest made by Phoenix Performance Products of Vaughan, Ontario. Phoenix was the first company to measure jockeys and ask for their input in designing protective vests, and it now captures 80 percent of the market. Founded in 1982, the company is owned by David Anderson and has 20 employees.
In the early days of racing, men often stood in front of the horses with bullwhips to keep them from starting before the race began. Today, Santa Anita uses automated gates made by United Puett Electrical Starting Gate Corporation of East Haddam, Connecticut. The gates are wired with electromagnets, which pop open at the press of a button -- an easier if less impressive way to start a race. United Puett is led by president Michael Costello and has eight employees.
DARREN DAHL is a contributing editor at Inc. Magazine, which he has written for since 2004. He also works as a collaborative writer and editor and has partnered with several high-profile authors. Dahl lives in Asheville, NC.