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Breeders' Cup handle rises for first time in three years
By Matt Hegarty
Handle at the Breeders’ Cup rose for the first time in three years this year, despite the event having one fewer race this year.
According to the charts of the races, held Friday and Saturday at Santa Anita, handle on the 14 races this year was $135.5 million, up 6.8 percent compared to preliminary reported handle of $126.8 million on 15 races last year. (The results do not include separate-pool wagering, which is typically added into the totals within a week of the event.) Last year's Breeders' Cup also was held at Santa Anita.
Last year, handle on the races was down 9.5 percent compared to 2011, when the event was held at Churchill Downs, a decline that was blamed in part on the aftereffects of Superstorm Sandy, which had caused power outages and transportation disruptions across the Eastern Seaboard.
Wagering this year was bolstered by a record pick five pool that drew $5.5 million in Saturday bets following a carryover of almost $900,000 when no one hit the bet on Friday. Wagering was especially strong early on in the Breeders’ Cup slate of Saturday races, but betting began to soften at the midpoint, a phenomenon that occurred on last year’s Saturday card as well.
Still, betting was up on the Classic, featuring a competitive 11-horse field, which ended dramatically moment when Mucho Macho Man just barely held off Will Take Charge in the shadow of the wire. Including all multi-leg bets ending in the Classic, betting on the race, which was shown in prime-time on NBC, was up 4.5 percent compared to last year.
Breeders’ Cup reported a crowd of 58,795 on Saturday, a gain of 6.6 percent over the Saturday crowd last year. Breeders’ Cup put together a lineup of pop-music stars to perform in the infield on Saturday, a first for that type of promotion, and attendance in the infield appeared to be sparse all day despite the entertainment.
On Friday, when five of the 14 Breeders’ Cup races were held, including the Distaff, attendance was 35,833, up 3.5 percent over last year’s Friday crowd. Both the Friday and Saturday cards were conducted in sunny, warm weather, the norm in Southern California for early November and one of the primary reasons Breeders’ Cup has targeted Santa Anita for four of its last six events. The Breeders’ Cup is also scheduled for Santa Anita next year.
When omitting the handle on the Breeders’ Cup Juvenile Sprint, a race that was discontinued this year after only two runnings, betting on the Breeders’ Cup races on the Friday card was largely flat compared to last year. Early on the Saturday card, however, perhaps due to the interest shown in the pick five – a 50-cent minimum bet with a 14 percent takeout that has become enormously popular in Southern California – betting was especially strong, with handle on the first three races up by double-digit percentages.
A total of 158 horses competed in the 14 races on Friday and Saturday, for an average of 11.3 horses per race. Last year, 162 horses ran in 15 races, for an average of 10.8 horses. Field size has a significant impact on betting handle.
Handle on a Saturday pick six with a guaranteed pool of $2.5 million was $3.28 million, slightly up from last year’s pick six handle of $3.14 million. A pick six held on the Friday card failed to hit its $1 million guarantee, leading to questions about the viability of the $2 minimum bet in an age when horseplayers have increasingly begun to prefer other multi-leg wagers with lower minimums. The Saturday result appeared to suggest the Friday result was a fluke, in part because the bet Friday did not include six Breeders’ Cup races this year, as it has for the past two years.
Handle on the early pick four on the Saturday card was $2.12 million, while handle on the late pick four was $3.73 million. Both handle totals were in line with those for the pick fours from last year.
The enthusiasm counts as much or more than the handle. Even with reduced coverage in NYC tabloids, Aqueduct was packed They cheered for the Cup races even more than for the live card. With an exciting final race finish, I am sure that next year will be just as captivating in the buildup Without a great live audience, the product is worth virtually nothing. .
The handle rise was exactly what I expected given you had one fewer BC race in 2013 than you had in 2011 or '12. The handle is still down considerably from 2010, but you have to remember that: 2011 had a freak storm dump as much as TWO FEET of snow in many parts of the northeast, and many areas were as a result without power until after the Breeders' Cup took place. 2012 had Superstorm Sandy, which created so many disruptions in the eastern seaboard. These included Daily Racing Form's main office being flooded, causing the main DRF site to be down for two days leading up to the BC and the site not being fully back up until the Thursday night before the BC, plus a lack of print editions of DRF being available ANYWHERE in the east due to the main printing plant having no power virtually ALL of BC week. If print editions were available at all, they were only available the day of racing. That was minor compared to the many problems people were dealing with along the eastern seaboard. In New Jersey for instance, so few stations had GAS available that it lead to massive lines and gas rationing not seen since the energy crisis of 1979. That along with many people having to go out just to get basic necessities led to severe disinterest in last year's BC in the northeast, as evidenced by sparse crowds at Aqueduct and The Meadowlands among other places. The problems were so bad they led to the cancellation of last year's New York City Marathon. 2013 saw the lingering effects of Sandy as many people who were displaced from their homes a year earlier by that storm have STILL not moved back into their homes, and in some cases have yet to even see work start on replacing the homes that were lost from the storm. Many others had to spend every extra dime they had in the year since Sandy in repairing their homes and replacing many items lost due to the storm. While some will eventually be reimbursed for that by insurance, many won't see that money until in some cases years from now, and as a result many still don't have money to spend on anything besides basic necessities. Then there was the matter of the Government shutdown during the first half of October, coupled with the threat of ANOTHER shutdown in a few months if elected officials in Washington don't get their act together. That likely contributed to handle not increasing further than it did, especially as Government workers in many instances are still playing catchup after being out of work for two and a half weeks due to the shutdown. Many people who already had to deal with one shutdown last month and now have to save money in case there is ANOTHER protracted shutdown early in 2014 because many Republicans in Congress are so worried about being "primaried" by Tea Party candidates unless they do everything the Tea Party wants. That stalemate is not going away that easily. Another thing that somewhat skewed BC Handle was the massive carryover in the Pick 5 that included the three non-BC races. Some BC money was likely re-directed to that pick five ($7 Million total handle) and likely also prevented handle on the actual BC races from going up further. Assuming we don't have any more freak storms or other things, 2014 should be when we see things return to where they were in 2010 from a handle standpoint. Bettors in my view are going to have to get used to later and later finishes for the BC that could include going to 11:00 PM ET as early as next year if NBC inists on Santa Anita installing lights so the BC can cover potentially ALL of prime time on Friday and Saturday. Networks can dictate such now, especially given live sports is the only thing that does well in the TV ratings, and even more so with "the millenials" (those born after 1980) that most ad buyers crave. That group widely considers any major event held in the daytime to be irrelevant (basically because they have had it drilled into them that all championship events are at night because that has been the case in the "big four" pro sports for more than 20 years), meaning for Horse Racing to become credible with "the millenials" outside of the Kentucky Derby, the Breeders' Cup has to join the rest of the sports world in being fully at night. The bettors are simply going to have to realize this is what "the millenials" want and they will have to adjust to them, not the other way around.
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