11/09/2009 1:00AM

Early returns: Cup handle steady

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Preliminary wagering totals indicate that commingled handle on this year's 14 Breeders' Cup races at Santa Anita Park in Southern California on Nov. 6-7 was slightly down compared with last year's totals, according to an analysis of the betting figures on the official charts of the races.

Commingled handle on the 14 races, a total that includes the amounts bet in any pick three or pick four pool that included one or more Breeders' Cup race, was $131.3 million, compared with $132.6 million in the same pools last year, a difference of 1 percent. Both the 2009 and 2008 Breeders' Cup events were held at Santa Anita under sunny skies.

The commingled handle figures include bets at all the wagering sites in the U.S. and Canada and through bet-processing systems maintained in France, Ireland, Germany, Switzerland, South Africa, and several Caribbean, Central American, and South American countries. The bet-processing system in Britain experienced technical difficulties and was shut out, according to Ken Kirchner, the Breeders' Cup's simulcasting consultant, but customers of the British-based bet-matching company Betfair were still able to get into the parimutuel pools.

Kirchner said he was encouraged by the figures because of the lingering effects of the recession and preliminary estimates that international bettors wagered an additional $8 million in separate pools on the event's 14 races, up from $5 million in separate pool handle last year. This year's figure includes $2.9 million bet in Hong Kong, where the last four Breeders' Cup races on Saturday were offered for the first time. Because of restrictions on the import of simulcast races, Hong Kong has offered only one Breeders' Cup race, the Mile, for the past two years.

Because of the separate-pool additions, Kirchner said he believed total handle on the Breeders' Cup races would be up several percentage points when final calculations are complete. Kirchner also said Breeders' Cup lost a sizeable portion of the $2.2 million in bets that were refunded on Quality Road after the colt was scratched at the gate in the Classic.

"You can only say it's very encouraging to be up any percentage in the current environment," Kirchner said.

On average, bettors wagered $9.34 million on each Breeders' Cup race this year, whereas average race handle last year was $9.5 million. In 2007, when 11 Breeders' Cup races were held over two days at Monmouth Park in New Jersey, average handle on each Breeders' Cup race was $11.7 million, when total handle on the 11 races was $129.2 million.

Field size for the 14 races was lower this year, at 10.5 horses per race, compared with 11.1 horses last year. In 2007, the 11 races attracted 117 starters, for an average field of 10.6 horses.

Comparisons among the handle figures over the past three years are complicated by the expansion in the number of Breeders' Cup races; the difference between the rainy weather conditions at Monmouth in 2007 and the ideal conditions at Santa Anita the past two years; the recession which is still having a negative impact on consumer spending; and the artificial surface at Santa Anita. Through it all, however, bettors have wagered approximately $130 million on the event for the past three years, suggesting that Breeders' Cup may have hit a limit on the amount of money domestic handicappers are willing to risk on the event.

In part, that is why Breeders' Cup has been looking to Europe and other foreign countries for growth, including the deal this year to permit Betfair customers to make parimutuel wagers on the event. According to Kirchner, about $800,000 was wagered by Betfair customers into the commingled pools, although the company's customers also bet approximately $24.8 million against each other through the company's bet-matching service. Although officials would not discuss terms of the agreement, Breeders' Cup received a small portion of Betfair's gross income from bet-matching on its races for the first time this year. It is not known how much Betfair patrons wagered against each other on past Breeders' Cup events.

Handle on a new bet that allowed patrons to select which jockey would finish with the most wins in the 14 races was $117,559. The bet included 13 individual jockeys and a field that included the wins of any jockey not listed. The field ended up winning, paying $5.60. Kirchner said that Breeders' Cup would consider the bet for next year.

A pick six on Saturday linking the Sprint to the Classic drew $3.3 million in bets, a 15 percent increase over pick six handle on the Saturday card last year. One ticket had all six winners and paid $1,838,305. The ticket was purchased through Royal River Racing, an OTB in a South Dakota casino, according to Breeders' Cup.

Pick six handle on the Friday card was $1.40 million, an increase of 36 percent over the 2008 Friday pick six. The Friday pick six this year included six Breeders' Cup races, whereas the Friday pick six last year included five Breeders' Cup races. Payout for the bet was $155,819.80 for six correct.