11/06/2010 8:40PM

Breeders' Cup betting handle up 13 percent

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Total commingled handle on the Friday and Saturday cards at Churchill Downs featuring the 14 races of the Breeders’ Cup increased 13 percent at a time when betting levels are dropping precipitously at many tracks across the country, according to figures provided by the Breeders’ Cup late on Saturday.

The results are a testament to the full, competitive fields offered in the event’s 14 races, as well as a validation of the star power that Zenyatta brought to the Breeders’ Cup in its return to Churchill Downs for the first time since 2006. In addition, a first-ever carryover in the Breeders’ Cup pick six from the Friday card refocused bettors' attention on the Saturday races.

According to the Breeders’ Cup, the preliminary commingled handle total for the two 10-race cards on Saturday and Friday was $163,619,784, well above the preliminary commingled handle total of $144,599,867 wagered on a 10-race card and a nine-race card last year at Santa Anita Park. It was the first significant gain in total Breeders’ Cup handle since the event was expanded to two days in 2007.

The results are encouraging for the racing industry because handle on U.S. races this year through the end of October is down 7.2 percent – in part because of a 7.8 percent contraction in race days linked to horse shortages and a steady erosion of racing’s fan base.

“Being up almost $20 million is just phenomenal considering the situation as far as national handle right now,” said Ken Kirchner, the Breeders’ Cup’s simulcasting consultant.

Although the Breeders’ Cup did not immediately provide handle results for the eight Breeders’ Cup races held on Saturday, totals on charts showed total commingled handle for the eight races to be $100,235,570.

The total figures will be revised upward later this week after separate-pool totals from international jurisdictions are calculated. Kirchner said that separate-pool handle on the two days will likely send the two-day total handle figures north of $170 million.

Not counting multi-leg bets linked to the race, a record total of $25,520,892 was bet on the Breeders’ Cup Classic – with $2,858,321 in win wagers placed on Zenyatta alone. Zenyatta fell short of running her career record to 20 wins from 20 starts, beaten a head by Blame.

Attendance this year was also far higher than the attendance last year at Santa Anita, according to the Breeders’ Cup. Attendance on Saturday on a cold but sunny day at Churchill was reported as 72,739, the fourth-highest attendance of all time, and a 23.6 percent gain on the Saturday crowd of 58,845 at Santa Anita last year. The record attendance of 80,452 was set in 1998, also at Churchill Downs.

The six highest attendance figures for the Breeders’ Cup in its 27-year history have all been recorded at Churchill. The track is the site for next year’s Breeders’ Cup as well.

On Friday, attendance at Churchill was 41,614, the highest Friday crowd since the event went to two days in 2007. The 2007 event was held at Monmouth Park and was marred by foul weather conditions, but the next two were both held at Santa Anita under clear skies. The Friday attendance last year was 37,651.

A total of 91 horses ran in the eight Breeders’ Cup races on Saturday, and 73 horses ran in the six races on Friday, for a total of 164 and an average field size of 11.7 horses. Last year, 147 horses ran in the 14 races, for an average field size of 10.5. Statistically, field size is highly correlated with the amount of money bet on a race.

This was the first time in two years that the Breeders’ Cup had been contested over a natural dirt track. Santa Anita had a synthetic main track at the time of both runnings in the past two years. The synthetic track is currently being replaced with a dirt track.

Bettors poured $5,240,640 into the pick six pool on Saturday to build the pool to $6,058,282, the second-largest pick six pool ever for the Breeders’ Cup. Friday’s carryover was $817,643. Four winning tickets cashed for $800,160.40 each, the fourth highest payoff in the 14 years that Breeders’ Cup has offered a pick six on the Saturday card.

The record for a pick six pool was set in 1998, at $6,494,193. Since that year, handle for the pick six has steadily eroded, in large part because of an expansion of the wagering menu and the preference of bettors over the past decade for pick threes and pick fours.

The pick six this year linked the Turf Sprint, the Juvenile, the Mile, the Dirt Mile, the Turf, and the Classic.

On Friday, no one selected 6 of 6 in the wager, leading to the $817,642 carryover, the first time in the four-year history of a two-day Breeders’ Cup that a pick six had carried over into Saturday.

In contrast to the Friday card, favorites and short-priced horses dominated the early portion of the card until Dakota Phone took the Dirt Mile at 37-1 by a nose. Dakota Phone was the longest priced horse in the race, and the full result triggered the highest exotic payoffs of the day: With 5-1 Morning Line second, the $1 exacta was $408.10, and the $1 trifecta with 6-1 Gayego paid $3,316.90. The superfecta was filled out by the 33-1 Cool Coal Man, making for a $1 super payoff of $36,883.80, the highest of the weekend.

Dakota Phone’s victory sank a fair share of pick six tickets, and then the 8-1 Dangerous Midge won the Turf. While the price may not have seemed that long, Dangerous Midge was the fifth choice in a seven-horse field significantly weakened by the scratch of morning-line favorite Workforce. Champ Pegasus, the 9-1 sixth choice, finished second, with favored Behkabad in third.

The other winners on Saturday paid $14.80 (Pluck, Juvenile Turf); $12.40 (Big Drama, Sprint); $15.80 (Chamberlain Bridge, Turf Sprint); $4.80 (Uncle Mo, Champagne); $4.60 (Goldikova, Mile); and $12.40 (Blame, Classic). The average win payoff for the Saturday Breeders’ Cup races was $19.73, compared to the average win payoff of $32 for the Friday Breeders’ Cup races.

The late pick four attracted $3,170,653 in wagers and paid $7,796.10 for a $1 ticket. The early pick four had handle of $1,551,963 and paid $1,099.60. Minimums for the pick four, pick three, and trifecta were lowered from $1 to 50 cents this year.

For the second straight year, the Breeders’ Cup offered a bet allowing bettors to select the jockey who would post the most victories in the 14 Breeders’ Cup races, and for the second year in a row, the “field” was the winning selection, paying $4.20. The number of individual betting interests for the jockey bet was expanded this year to 15, from 13 last year. Handle on the bet was $111,120, compared to $117,559 last year.

A $1 Super Hi-5 in the Classic returned $7,043.40. The wager requires bettors to select the first five finishers in order. A Super Hi-5 was also offered on the Ladies’ Classic on Friday.