11/17/2010 4:28PM

Getting a Handle on Breeders' Cup Handle

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Common-pool wagering on Breeders' Cup Saturday was $110 million, a resounding $14.3 million increase over last year and due largely to a $12.1 million increase in wagers on, or ending with, the Breeders' Cup Classic. Combined with a $2.7 million increase on BC Friday wagering over last year, the two-day total was up $16.9 million, or 11.75 percent from last year: 

(A full pool-by-pool comparison appears at the bottom of this post. Note that $2.1 million of the year-over-year increase came from the Saturday pick-6, where an $817k carryover fueled $5.2 million in additional pick-6 bets, up from $3.3 million and $2.8 million the last two years. Also, note that the race order was slightly different, which may explain some of the minor dips and gains on individual races.)

Obviously, the huge jump in general public interest in this year's Classic played a large factor, but it's hard to tell how much of the increased activity at the windows came from existing fans as opposed to newly-recruited ones. How many of the millions of people who heard about Zenyatta for the first time on the "60 Minutes" broadcast about her really opened betting accounts or visited a track or OTB for the first time six days later?

The wagering gains on the Friday and early Saturday races is itself an encouraging sign that may well reflect the larger fields and change of venue for this year's event. The surge of betting on the Classic was all the more remarkable because it followed two years -- the first two years of full Friday AND Saturday BC cards -- where betting had sharply dropped off midway through the Saturday card.

The addition of Friday races makes long-term comparisons difficult, but just to keep this year's Saturday totals in perspective: The last time the BC was held at Churchill Downs, in 2006, attendance was slightly higher (75,132 vs. 72,739) and total commingled handle was $136 million vs. this year's $110 million. (Monmouth's 2007 Saturday handle of $112.3 million was also higher than this year's Saturday betting.)

There's no way of telling how many customers availed themselves of the new 50-cent minimums this year on trifectas, pick-3's and pick-4's. Total handle showed only a slight shift away from straight wagers (34.55 to 32.37 percent of total handle) while multiple and exotic wagers grew from 65.45 percent last year to 67.63 percent this year. Other than the carryover-driven Pick-Six gains, the largest percentage increase by bet-type was in trifectas, where betting jumped from $16.6 million to $20.2 million this year.