06/13/2016 11:50AM

‘Pharoah effect' largely debunked as Triple Crown business figures dip


The 2016 Triple Crown is now in the books, with a different horse winning each of the three legs of the series. Business results from the races affirmed what the industry already knew – that a Triple Crown try is great news for the third leg, the Belmont Stakes. But another dubious theory – that American Pharoah’s Triple Crown win last year, which ended a 37-year drought, would provide a boost to the series this year – did not pan out, with little evidence that racing benefited significantly from what was undeniably the most positive coverage of racing in two decades.

The only race in the series to post handle gains was the second leg, the Preakness Stakes at Pimlico in Baltimore, where betting was up 16.2 percent over a relatively unattractive betting race last year. Betting on the Kentucky Derby at Churchill Downs in Kentucky was down 9.7 percent, in large part because of a meltdown of one of the country’s largest account-wagering providers, TVG, an hour before the race. Betting on the Belmont in New York, without the lure of a Triple Crown try, was down 37 percent, along the lines of expectations.

While handle figures are a suitable gauge of the interest of horseplayers (who are influenced by a legion of betting-related factors apart from the composition of the fields), television ratings are a better, if limited, gauge of the interest in the races shown by the wider public. On those measures, there was nothing to indicate that American Pharoah’s win had a lingering impact on racing’s popularity.

The television rating for this year’s Derby, perennially one of the most highly rated sporting events of the year, was down 14 percent despite the favorite, Nyquist, being undefeated and the previous year’s champion 2-year-old colt, a record better than that of American Pharoah going into last year’s Derby. Share, a measure of the percentage of televisions in use at the time tuned into a broadcast, was down 12.5 percent.

Curiously, the Preakness rating was up 7 percent over last year, but the share was identical. This year’s Preakness was won by the Derby runner-up, Exaggerator, putting an end to a Triple Crown bid this year and shattering any of the overblown expectations that Nyquist would emerge as a superhorse just one year after American Pharoah electrified the racing world with a dominant win in the sloppy Preakness.

While betting on the Belmont and the overnight rating for the broadcast this year dropped precipitously from last year, the declines were not out of line for any running of the race in which a Triple Crown is not on the line. Betting on the race itself this year was $52.2 million, according to charts, nearly identical to betting on the race in 2013, the last time a Triple Crown was not possible.

There was some good news in the betting numbers for the New York Racing Association, the operator of Belmont Park. Total handle on the 13-race card this year, which was revamped in 2014 to include many of Belmont’s most prestigious spring and summer races, was $99.9 million, up 12.6 percent from 2013. Still, that figure was down 26.5 percent from last year and down 33.6 percent from the record set in 2014.

Interestingly, the theory that American Pharoah’s Triple Crown campaign was a boon to racing was weakened even before he crossed the finish line in the Belmont Stakes last year. The record for betting on the Belmont Stakes was set in 2014, when California Chrome attempted to win the Triple Crown; betting on American Pharoah’s Belmont was down 10.5 percent from that figure. The record set in 2014 for betting on the entire Belmont Stakes card was never threatened either last year, with total wagering on the 13-race card last year down 9.7 percent.

Supporters of the theory that American Pharoah’s 2015 Horse of the Year campaign would reinvigorate racing this year were not dissuaded by the decline in the Belmont numbers. The real gain, the supporters said, would show up later in the year, after the Triple Crown had been won, as those positive feelings engendered by American Pharoah rippled throughout the larger culture.

That support was validated when the overnight rating for American Pharoah’s Breeders’ Cup Classic last year was up 46 percent from the rating for the race in 2014. The rating was the highest for the race since 2010, when Zenyatta, the most popular horse in racing until American Pharoah appeared, made her career finale.

After Zenyatta retired, racing did not experience any kind of measurable resurgence either. With the mediocrity of this year’s Triple Crown numbers, it appears that racing should accept that the larger public can be moved by a single horse but not horse racing as a whole.

Ray Sousa 11 months ago
Only horse  racing officials would believe that just because a horse won the triple crown people would bet more into more crooked races. American Pharoah was great and got some new people into the game . They then watched a few races and saw what every long time fan sees on a daily base .cheating.. Lots of dishonesty . They quickly realize that if people who know what they are doing can't figure out the pace of a race because the jockeys are bent on altering the natural outcome of races .they have no shot at figuring this sport out..they quickly learn that 95% of horses are on lasix even though only 20% or less need it and wonder why?. After asking the old timers or doing some research on line they realize it's masking agent for drugs.and that drugs are rampant in the sport. So they ask are the horses like junkies and if so how do you trust their past or future performances . I keep reading all the B.S. Written by the racing publications and all the excuses by racing officials .but the fact people don't trust that horse racing is honest and have no confidence betting serios money . They don't take the time to learn to handicapp because they don't believe it helps when the results are fixed. Imagine would anybody learn poker theory or take the time to get good at it if they knew the other players at the table were cheating .no I don't play online poker for the same reason . 
Gaye Goodwin 11 months ago
duh ...
now, clean up your house - THAT is how to bring in new fans

ML_NJ 11 months ago
When will the really smart folks dump this idea of the Big Horse.?

If some circuit is lucky the Big Horse will race three times at their tracks in a year, and always on a weekend.

Telling the unwashed that they must see the Big Horse tells them NEVER to come out to the track on a Thursday, or really anytime except in New York, Kentucky, or Southern California.

Back when I started, the posters in the NYC subways proclaimed "Big, Bold Beautiful, Big-A."  Then 25,000 showed up every weekday, and 50,000 showed up every Saturday.  Today, no one would care if the place closed for good.  The Big Horse NEVER races at the Big-A.

Greg Garcia 11 months ago
Last year's triple crown win kept me away.  And the Breeders' Cup didn't help. I will stay home rather than lose to a horse that pays $3.00.  I bet nary a dime on this year's triple crown, which was too bad because I had the winner of the P. and the B.  Who wants to win $2.60 on a win bet.?  I want long shots.  Let's hope for no more t.c. winners for another 30 years. 
Pat Lyons 11 months ago
Should have kept American pharoah racing as a four-year-old as I stated #worldFamousPatLyons  only been in this game a long long time and I know what America needs I need a hero they would go out and see him as a four-year-old and see how he does encourage new blood into the game we want to see him racing as a two-year-old A3 year old and A4 year old
Wayne Gunter 11 months ago
TV ratings could be higher with more people that are experts!  Bailey and Moss are very good, but Bob Costas doesn't know anything about raciing so what is he doing there,.

Penny Loeb 11 months ago
My travel article in Sunday's Washington Post relates a bit to public interest in racing. While it's about touring horse farms and other horse activities in the Bluegrass, hopefully it invites folks to learn more about "what an awesome animal the horse is," (Laura Donnell of Taylor Made) https://www.washingtonpost.com/lifestyle/travel/its-a-new-tourist-friendly-era-at-kentuckys-famed-horse-farms/2016/06/09/7ad9c9e0-22c4-11e6-9e7f-57890b612299_story.html
TEDK215 11 months ago
boy, I cant wait to type in all those numbers!
Jerry Andrews 11 months ago
I love how the Derby ratings crush the NHL Finals, equal the NBA Finals and beat the World Series yet "the general public" doesn't care.
Anonymous 11 months ago
Oh quit griping.  The track officials kept plenty of cash $.  
Chas 11 months ago
For the Triple Crown effect to really take hold the horse that wins the crown needs to race as a 4 yr. old....AP ran in three races and the turn out was very strong especially for the Travers....but, everyone knew after the Breeders Cup AP was done, retired....
Racing the following year is what people want to see and that is what will build the numbers and fan support...