10/29/2007 12:00AM

First figures show drop in Cup handle

EmailThe preliminary commingled wagering figure for the eight established Breeders’ Cup races this year was down 20 percent compared with last year’s record preliminary commingled betting total, according to figures released by Breeders’ Cup.

Commingled wagering on the eight Breeders’ Cup races on Saturday was $105.5 million, down $26.5 million from last year’s preliminary commingled total of $132 million, according to the figures. Breeders’ Cup officials estimated that when separate-pool wagering figures are verified later this week on the eight Saturday races, the all-sources figure will increase by approximately $5 million.

Comparisons between betting on the 2007 event and the 2006 event – which was held at Churchill Downs in Louisville under partly cloudy skies – are difficult for a number of significant reasons. Rain deluged this year’s host site, Monmouth Park, from Thursday until late on Saturday, turning the main track to mud and leaving the turf course yielding or soft. In addition, Breeders’ Cup held three new races this year on Friday, which may have put a strain on players’ bankrolls for the Saturday card.

Ken Kirchner, a consultant to Breeders’ Cup on simulcasting and wagering, said that of all the factors contributing to the decline, the rainy conditions were the most important. In addition, Kirchner said that fewer entries compared to last year, Monmouth’s inability to host a large ontrack crowd, and the fact that Breeders’ Cup ran at the end of the month rather than the beginning of the month – when government checks are issued – also played a role in the decline. Last year, the Breeders’ Cup was held on Nov. 4.

“If you take all those into account, it’s fairly explainable through those terms,” Kirchner said.

The preliminary handle totals do not auger well for the Breeders’ Cup’s goal of increasing handle on the event to $200 million by the year 2010. Breeders’ Cup set the goal early in 2006, after handle on the eight races had been static for three years, and progress toward the goal seemed on track when handle last year increased 15.4 percent.

The $105.5 million preliminary total on the eight Saturday races is the lowest since the 2001 event at Belmont Park. If the separate-pool estimate of $5 million is accurate, the $110.5 million total would be the third-highest of all time, behind last year’s record and the $116.4 million bet at 2005 at Belmont Park.

Wagering on the three new Friday races – which each carried a $1 million purse – was $19.8 million, bringing the preliminary total for the 11 races to $125.3 million. Kirchner said he was pleased with the wagering figures for Friday, although he said the races may have had a negative impact on the betting figures for Saturday because of the conditions handicappers saw on ESPN and simulcast shows.

“Monmouth had already taken three days of rain, and the results were such that it may have lowered the confidence of the people looking to gauge the track for Saturday,” Kirchner said. “You may have had some people take a step back.”

The overnight rating for Saturday’s broadcast on ESPN, from noon until 6:15 p.m., declined 11 percent from last year, from 0.9 to 0.8, according to Mark Mandel, a spokesman for the network. Overnight ratings measure the number of households watching a broadcast in a select number of markets. The final national rating, which measures the rating for the entire country, was to be available on Tuesday, Mandel said.

The overnight rating for the Friday broadcast was a 0.3, Mandel said.

The total number of entries in the eight Saturday Breeders’ Cup races was down by 17 horses this year, from 104 in 2006 to 87. Betting on the Classic, which had a nine-horse field compared with a 13-horse field last year, fell from $26.7 million to $21.7 million.

Betting on the $3 million guaranteed pick six was sharply lower this year, dropping to $3,287,581 from $4,786,481 last year. In addition, the first $2 million guaranteed pick four, linking the first four Breeders’ Cup races, fell short of its guarantee at $1,882,987. The second pick four attracted $3,166,213 in wagers.

Last year, handle on the first pick four was $2.3 million, and handle on the second pick four was $2.7 million.

Ontrack handle for all 11 races on Saturday at Monmouth was $12,726,622, the smallest at a Breeders’ Cup site since 1997. Attendance was 41,781, the second-smallest crowd in the 24-year history of Breeders’ Cup. As at Arlington Park in 2002 and Lone Star Park in 2004, attendance was restricted this year because of the small size of the host track’s grandstand.

Wagering figures have yet to be verified from a number of overseas countries where bettors wagered into separate pools, including Hong Kong, where bettors were able to wager on only the Breeders’ Cup Mile. Kirchner said that the preliminary figures showed that Hong Kong bettors wagered approximately $480,000 on the race, which went off at 3:20 a.m. there.

Other countries that bet into separate pools were Australia, South Africa, Italy, Mexico, and several Caribbean countries. Bettors in France – who were able to bet into the U.S. commingled pools – also made wagers into separate pools for unique bet types that are popular in the country.