11/05/2011 9:10PM

Breeders' Cup handle drops 5.1 percent despite additional race

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In 2010, commingled handle on the Breeders’ Cup’s 14 races shot up 13 percent to a record, in the midst of an industry-wide three-year economic slump that had followed years of stagnation. With handle on the Breeders’ Cup Classic a record that year, the most reasonable explanation for the surge was that Zenyatta’s attempt to retire undefeated with her second Classic win in a row had given the Breeders’ Cup a much-needed shot in the arm.

That explanation seems all the more reasonable after handle on the Breeders’ Cup this year – despite the addition of a 15th race – dropped 5.1 percent, according to preliminary commingled figures released late on Saturday by Breeders’ Cup.

The decline, from $147.5 million on 14 races last year to $140.1 million for 15 races this year, is the first for the Breeders’ Cup since the event was held at Monmouth Park in 2007, the first year in which the event was held over two days – and the racing was marred by heavy rain. Despite the decline, the total for the 15 races is still the second-highest for the event in its 28-year history, propelled in large part by the rapid addition of races over the past five years.

The declines in handle were coupled with a significant decline in attendance for the Saturday card compared to last year, from 72,739 in 2010 to 65,143 this year, despite Saturday’s ideal fall weather. The decline can also be explained, in part, by the thousands of fans who had come to Churchill last year to see Zenyatta, the most popular horse of the last decade.

Going into the Breeders’ Cup last year, overall handle on U.S. horse races was down 7.2 percent for the year, and economic conditions have not gotten any better since then for the racing industry, which has struggled to maintain relevancy throughout the last decade. This year, through October, handle is down 7.5 percent compared to last year, putting wagering on U.S. horse races on pace to register the lowest total since 1995, unadjusted for inflation.

For the nine Breeders’ Cup races on Saturday, handle was $97.6 million, a decline of 2.5 percent when compared to the preliminary commingled handle figure of $100.2 million on eight races held last year. Average handle per race was $10.8 million, compared to average handle last year of $12.53 million. (All figures are preliminary commingled figures, and do not include separate-pool wagering. Comparisons are to like figures.)

On Friday, handle for the six races held that day was $42.5 million, down 6.3 percent from the handle for six Friday Breeders’ Cup races last year.
The nine Saturday races had 104 total runners, compared to 93 in eight races last year. Average field size for the nine races this year was 11.6 runners, and average field size for last year’s Saturday’s card was 11.6 runners as well.

In total, 173 horses ran this year in 15 races, for average field size of 11.5 horses. Last year, 164 horses ran in 14 races for average field size of 11.7 horses.

For the entire 22 races held over two days at Churchill, total commingled handle was $155.5 million, a decline of 4.9 percent when compared to record wagering of $163.6 million wagered last year on 22 races at Churchill over the two-day event. The combined attendance of 105,820 for the two days was the second-highest in the four-year history of the event being held over two days, behind 2010.

Zenyatta’s star power showed up most powerfully in a comparison of the amount of money bet on the Classic this year and last year. This year, betting on the Classic in all pools was $18.9 million, compared to a record $25.5 million in betting in Zenyatta’s Classic last year, a difference of $6.4 million – or nearly the entire difference between the 14 races this year and the 15 races last year.

Only one favorite, Regally Ready, won in the nine races held on Saturday, and the winner of the Mile, Court Vision, paid the second-highest win price in Breeders’ Cup history, behind Arcangues, the 133-1 winner of the 1993 Breeders’ Cup Classic. In fact, Regally Ready, who paid $6.20 when winning the Turf Sprint, was the only horse to pay less than double digits on Saturday.

Afleet Again, the longest shot on the board, won the Marathon to start the day off, paying $85.20 to win and keying a $668.40 exacta for $2 and a $4,147.40 trifecta for $2. Then, in the next race, the Breeders’ Cup Juvenile Turf, Wrote paid $25.20 to win, while the 30-1 shot Excaper boosted exotic prices. The exacta paid $964, while the trifecta, with Farraaj, paid $8,131.20 for a $2 bet.

Amazombie took the next race, the Sprint, at 7-1, paying $17.80, while Force Freeze ran a good second and the favorite, Jackson Bend, finished a non-threatening third.

After Regally Ready’s formful win in the Turf Sprint to kick off the pick six, Caleb’s Posse won the Dirt Mile, paying $15.60. St Nicholas Abbey followed in the Turf, paying $15.60, with favored Sarafina finishing fourth. Hansen ($16.20) won the Juvenile in the next race, with favorite Union Rags back a nose.
In the Mile, Goldikova could not hold off the late charge of Court Vision ($131.60) and finished third behind Turallure. In the Classic, Drosselmeyer paid $31.60 to win, with favored Flat Out fifth, second choice Havre de Grace fourth, and third choice So You Think in sixth.

Handle for the pick six was $3,369,126, a fair number but far short of the pool for the pick six last year, when bettors shelled out $5,240,640 to chase an $817,000 carryover. Going into the Classic, only two tickets were live – one to Ruler on Ice, and the other to Rattlesnake Bridge, suggesting a numbers play – and 5 of 6 paid out $95,070.

The late pick four, linking the Turf, Juvenile, Mile, and Classic, had handle of $3,351,446. The early pick four, linking the Juvenile Turf, Sprint, Turf Sprint, and Dirt Mile, had handle of $1,727,656.