11/04/2013 4:38PM

Breeders' Cup: Handle bounces back up 11 percent off sluggish 2012 numbers

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Handle on the Breeders’ Cup rebounded from a sharp downturn at the event last year, with all-sources wagering on the 14 races on the Breeders’ Cup slate jumping seven percent and total handle on the two Breeders’ Cup cards at Santa Anita surging 11 percent.

The gains reversed two straight years of decline on the two-day event, even though this year’s Breeders’ Cup cards included 14 races, rather than 15. Last year’s decline, 9.5 percent, was generally attributed to the aftereffects of Superstorm Sandy, with the highest declines occurring at sites on the Northeastern seaboard, where the storm’s impact on power and transportation networks was most pronounced.

Total commingled handle on the 14 Breeders’ Cup races this year was $136.5 million, according to the organization. Five Breeders’ Cup races were run on Friday, with the remaining nine run on Saturday. Total handle on the 11-race Friday and Saturday cards at Santa Anita was $160.7 million, $16.5 million above last year’s total and nearly equaling the total on the two cards held at Churchill Downs in 2011, when handle was $161.5 million.

“That’s very positive news,” said Ken Kirchner, Breeders’ Cup’s simulcasting consultant. “Those are very good numbers.”

Kirchner said separate-pool handle would likely total an additional $3 million, meaning this year’s wagering numbers will exceed the 2011 total at Churchill.

The overall results were boosted by a carryover in the Friday pick 5 that resulted in a $6.4 million pool for the wager on Saturday, a record for the bet, which carries a 50-cent minimum and a 14 percent takeout. Handle totals also benefited from a jump in field size for the 14 Breeders’ Cup races from 10.8 horses per race last year to 11.3 horses this year.

Attendance for the two days totaled 94,628, according to Breeders’ Cup, an increase of 5 percent over the total last year, when the event also was held at Santa Anita. Attendance was 35,833 on Friday and 58,795 on Saturday. Both days were sunny with temperatures in the low 80s.

Growth in handle and attendance did not translate into additional viewers for a one-hour broadcast on NBC featuring the Classic. The overnight rating for the broadcast was a 1.4, down 36 percent compared to the overnight for the Classic broadcast last year, according to NBC. The network said the rating last year was boosted by a stronger lead-in, a college-football matchup between Notre Dame and Pitt that went into triple overtime.

On-track handle for both days was $21.0 million, up two percent over the on-track handle last year, according to Breeders’ Cup.

Wagering on the Friday Breeders’ Cup slate was flat compared to wagering last year, when omitting the handle numbers from 2012 Breeders’ Cup Juvenile Sprint, a race that was discontinued for 2013. But wagering on the Saturday card was well over the Saturday slate last year, with most of the gains being concentrated on the early Breeders’ Cup races.

Betting on the marquee race of the event, the 11-horse Classic, was up 4.5 percent compared to handle on last year’s 12-horse field, to $25.5 million, according to betting information included in the charts of the races. Betting on two of the four races restricted to juveniles – which were run with a rule in place banning the raceday administration of the legal anti-bleeding medication Lasix – was down compared to last year, when handle on the five races restricted to juveniles was down a total of 23 percent in the first year of the Lasix policy. The rule has been suspended for next year.

One of the few soft spots in the betting results was the Friday pick six, which drew $891,012 in wagers, short of the $1 million guarantee for the bet. Because of the guarantee, Breeders’ Cup was required to seed the pool to hit the $1 million mark. As a result of dropping the Breeders’ Cup Juvenile Sprint, the pick six on Friday included an overnight stakes instead of a full slate of Breeders’ Cup races, which could have dampened interest in the bet.

Kirchner said the Friday pick six may have been negatively impact by a $2 million carryover in the pick six at Santa Anita on Thursday by depleting some national players’ bankrolls.

The Saturday pick six, which had a $2.5 million guarantee, drew $3.27 million in bets, up 4.4 percent compared to handle on the Saturday pick six of $3.14 million last year. Both pick 6 bets had a minimum wager of $2. Over the past several years, many tracks have cut the minimums in many multi-leg bets to $1 or 50-cents in order to attract more players into pools that usually generate the sport’s highest payoffs.