10/22/2012 2:58PM

Emerald Downs handle dips but exceeds expectations


While daily average handle declined 1.8 percent at Emerald Downs during its recently completed 81-day meeting, track president Ron Crockett characterized the meeting as a success. Betting easily exceeded his preseason forecast, he said, and total purse distribution increased from the previous year.

The Emerald Downs meeting ran from April 13 through Sept. 23.

“I forecast handle to be down about 5 percent, and we were down 1.8, so I would say, even though we were down, I was pleasantly surprised,” Crockett said. “I thought the horse shortage would hurt us more than it did.”

Wagering from all sources – ontrack, out of state, and advance-deposit accounts – on Emerald Downs’s races averaged $740,310 per day, Crockett said, and betting at Emerald on out-of-state races averaged $410,141. Combining those two numbers yields the daily average of $1,150,451 and a 1.8 percent decrease from 2011.

Betting at Emerald Downs on Emerald races declined 4.7 percent this year, Crockett said, to $164,111 per day.

The work required to fill races was particularly troublesome over the final 11 weeks of the meeting, after Portland Meadows launched a new summer schedule July 15 in direct competition with Emerald Downs. For decades, Northwest horsemen had an informal circuit – Seattle in the spring and summer, Portland in the fall and winter – but that arrangement was turned upside down when Portland Meadows went to a summer meeting.

Overall in 2012, the average field size at Emerald Downs was 6.36 starters per race – 6.53 before Portland Meadows opened, and 6.17 after the tracks began competing for horses. Average field size in 2010 at Emerald was 7.03 horses per race, and in 2011 the average was 6.73 per race.

“Obviously, the problem is finding enough horses to fill the mid-range races, from the stakes down to the $12,500 [claiming] area,” Crockett said. “That’s the problem area.”

Crockett added that the issue was even present at the Washington Thoroughbred Breeders and Owners Association’s annual yearling sale in September.

“Even at the sale, there was a top and there was bottom, and the middle is where it’s hurting,” Crockett said. “That’s where we were short this year. I have compassion for people who say, ‘I have a horse for $20,000 and only three horses are entered.’ I’m not sure how to correct that. But that’s the Achilles’ heel of Northwest racing right now.”

Crockett said it could be a stormy winter, with Portland Meadows scheduled to close in mid-December and Emerald Downs opening again four months later, in April 2013.

“I think it’s fairly straightforward that the way we used to run was better for horsemen because it gave them something year round,” Crockett said. “Now, when it ends in December, unless they leave the Northwest, there’s nowhere to run in January, February, and March. . . . To have to leave the state, to go to Phoenix, some to Northern California, it just created a void that I think will be harmful. Hopefully, it doesn’t have people leaving the business.”