12/04/2014 4:58PM

Giwner: The French Simulcast Experiment

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Mike Lizzi
Yonkers Raceway has been averaging over $300,000 per race in handle on races sent to the French PMU.

In case you somehow missed it, Yonkers Raceway has been sending its Sunday signal to the French PMU which allows the Westchester, NY oval to reach many European nations. With the international simulcast experiment on a one week scheduled hiatus, it seemed like the perfect time to review what we have learned and find out what is to come in 2015.

To date approximately $6.4 million has been wagered overseas on the first four Sunday morning matinee cards. That sum has resulted in approximately $192,000 in shared revenue for the track and its horsemen from 20 races. With one more date scheduled on Sunday, December 14, that number should grow to around $240,000.

Using generous estimates of $50,000 on-track and $700,000 in off-track revenue domestically on an average night at the Hilltop, the track would take in about $31,000 each night of racing (assuming 20% takeout for on-track wagers and 3% for off-track). So, basically in just five races per card simulcast abroad the track is doubling its typical income from most regular nights.

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It is fair to call the new simulcast deal a success and an expansion is on the agenda for 2015. The track is expected to export five to seven races per card on selected Sundays and Tuesdays next year. A total of 173 races over 31 dates is currently being discussed. A quartet of Sunday cards early in the year would kick off the agreement, with Tuesdays taking over before a switch back to Sundays again to wind down the year. While the Sunday cards have been starting between 11:10 a.m. and 11:30 p.m., the Tuesday cards in 2015 are expected to commence at 3 p.m. 

If the track averaged a modest $300,000 per race in European handle for the 173 races, the purse account would benefit with $778,500 in new money.

Yonkers raceway is scheduled to race 234 cards in 2015 starting January 9 and likely concluding on Sunday, December 13.

For Standardbred Owners Association President Joseph Faraldo, the trial run is just the start of what he hopes will be an expansion to comingling between U.S. and international pools. “It’s got to be worked on very slowly,” said Faraldo. “I think they will do it for the International Trot next year, though we may have to race the card in the daytime.

“The way to get co-mingling is to get big races and to cater to their needs. There is a lot of depth in that market that needs to be tapped. They want to bet more.”

Just over eight years into VLT-infused purses for his horsemen, Faraldo seems to have a new agenda, one focused on the long term survival of the sport.

“I’m set on doing whatever the customer wants,” said Faraldo. “What’s best for the horsemen is not necessarily best for the people, but the horsemen are protected and now it is time to look out for the good of the people and the future of the game.”

Horsemen typically don’t favor racing larger fields and racing in the second-tier (off the gate), but have accepted the alteration for the greater good of appealing to the overseas market.

“These guys (horsemen) have been super,” said Faraldo. “I’ve always felt it was a distinct disadvantage not being on the gate, but the excuse I’ve been using is that you can’t appeal to the global market with just eight horses on the gate. They (PMU) wanted 14 in each field and we settled on 12.

Faraldo said he was worried about safety because of the large fields and thought there would be definite pushback from the driving colony. “When I went into the paddock and told them we handled $400,000 in the first race that first Sunday, from that moment on not one guy has said a word.”

The larger fields racing at the added distance of 1 1/4 miles have tweaked the somewhat mundane line-up style racing which is associated with half-mile track racing. Horses from outside posts are leaving the gate with more frequency in the longer races and North American handle has actually been slightly better on the added-distance races than the traditional mile races.

Over the last two Sundays (11/23, 11/30), Yonkers has handled $455,813 on the ten early 1 1/4 races and just $381,397 on the subsequent ten races from the two cards. While some while use the excuse that the NFL start time of 1 p.m. is causing the drop-off in handle, it should be noted that the fifth race on both cards went off well after 1 p.m. and handled over 50% more than the following race.

The numbers show that people like the new dimension and while Faraldo still has safety concerns, he would be willing to lead the horsemen towards the idea of longer races with fuller fields if the public was in favor of it.

“I like the 1 1/4 races, but I’ve always been afraid of pacers in bigger fields at longer distances,” said Faraldo, worried that the higher speeds that pacers race could lead to more on-track incidents. “Maybe Yonkers can be known as the place for trotters.”

One thing is certain, Yonkers Raceway made immense strides in 2014 by bringing back the International Trot and starting the French Experiment. Hopefully the best is yet to come.