11/09/2012 2:35PM

Breeders' Cup handle declines; Superstorm Sandy a factor


Double-digit declines in betting at wagering sites on the East Coast and in the Mid-Atlantic that had been impacted by Superstorm Sandy depressed handle on last weekend’s Breeders’ Cup races, officials said Friday.

Handle at sites and through account-wagering operations in New York, New Jersey, Maryland, Pennsylvania, Connecticut, Delaware, and West Virginia was down 29 percent compared to betting at the sites last year, according to the officials. The declines were especially stark in New York, where handle through the New York Racing Association’s ontrack facilities and account-wagering platform was off 26 percent and handle through some New York offtrack betting companies was down by more than 50 percent.

Breeders’ Cup officials expected handle to be off at the sites because of widespread power outages and transportation problems caused by the storm, which made landfall four days prior to the start of the Breeders’ Cup on Friday, Nov. 2, at Santa Anita Park in Southern California. Several factors also appeared to be at play, including declines in field sizes in the juvenile races.

According to Ken Kirchner, Breeders’ Cup’s simulcasting and wagering consultant, total commingled handle on the 15 Breeders’ Cup races was down 8.8 percent over wagering on the 15 races last year, from $140.1 million last year to $127.7 million this year, a difference of $12.4 million. While the total figure was down significantly from last year, the totals compared favorably to handle on 14 Breeders’ Cup races in 2008 and 2009 at Santa Anita Park. In 2010, Breeders’ Cup had record commingled handle for an event that featured Zenyatta going for her 19th straight win the Classic. That event and the 2011 edition were both held at Churchill Downs in Louisville, Ky.

Total field size in the 15 races this year was down 6.3 percent compared to last year, from 173 to 162, due entirely to a sharp drop off in field size for the five juvenile races, including a five-horse field for the Juvenile Sprint on the Friday card. This year, 50 horses competed in the five juvenile races, compared to 64 horses last year.

Kirchner said that Breeders’ Cup is still attempting to gauge the reasons why handle fell off precipitously for the last three races on the Saturday card. Handle on both the Sprint and Mile was off 25 percent compared to the races in the same positions last year, while handle on the Classic was off 12.8 percent. The Classic this year went off at 8:43 p.m. Eastern, the latest the race has ever been run.

Kirchner cited a multitude of factors that may have impacted the handle on the last three races, including the late post times, competition from other prime-time programs, and the cumulative effects that the long lineup of races over two days had on players’ bankrolls. This is the third year in a row that the Breeders’ Cup has featured 15 races.

“Clearly, looking at it at on a race-by-race basis, the late races on Saturday had a fall off,” Kirchner said. “That’s a fact. We don’t know why that was just yet. Some of this is pretty intricate analysis.”

The prime-time slot for the Classic propelled the NBC broadcast of the race to a 2.0 national television rating, or 3.1 million viewers, up 100 percent over last year’s broadcast of the Classic on ESPN, which has a slightly lower market penetration than NBC. The Classic also was helped by a strong lead-in on NBC’s national network when undefeated Notre Dame tied its game with Pittsburgh late and prevailed in three overtimes.

Twelve of the other 15 races were broadcast live on NBC Sports, a sister network that is not widely available on cable networks. The national rating for the Saturday races was the equivalent of an average of approximately 360,000 viewers, a sharp decline from the average of 1.4 million viewers for the broadcast on ESPN last year. The Friday races had an average of 178,000 viewers, down from 334,000 viewers for the Friday races on ESPN last year.

Live streaming of all the races was available through a long list of Internet sites, including NBC Sports, breederscup.com, and racing and account-wagering sites, though viewership figures on the live streams was not available.