02/04/2015 5:41PM

Giwner: Monticello has been mighty in handle

Derick Giwner
Monticello Raceway has been handling over $700,000 per card on a daily basis.

Each day handicappers have a decision as to where they will allocate their money. Perhaps a major stakes card can sway a person away from their “go-to” track, but for the most part (rightfully so) a smart player will stick with the track they know best.

On the week of January 19 I recorded handle statistics from every track that made them easily accessible. Those tracks that show handle figures after each race should be applauded for making their data readily available.

Some of the nuggets of information I uncovered through the analysis of 10 tracks (Monticello, Yonkers, Pompano, Northfield, Western Fair, Woodbine, Flamboro, Meadowlands, Fraser and Cal Expo) was interesting. While it is no surprise that Meadowlands is the dominant track in average handle per race and that Woodbine is a clear second, who would have thought that Monticello Raceway was fighting to rank third on the list.

During my three-day sample, the track in the Catskills averaged $59,435 wagered per race, just $1,302 behind Northfield Park in the third spot. Despite a purse structure which offers up about $40,000 per day to horsemen, the track averaged $772,666 in handle.

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“I think we learned about seven years ago when we offered all those big purse races, you can race for $500,000, but it is not indicative of handle,” said Shawn Wiles, Assistant General Manager of Racing & Facilities for Monticello Raceway and Gaming.

Some were worried that when Yonkers Raceway switched to Tuesday afternoons it would adversely affect Monticello, but that has not been the case. Monticello averaged $53,800 per race on January 20 versus $47,355 per race for Yonkers. Even better, when Yonkers cancelled its afternoon card on February 3, Monticello checked in at $69,657 per race!

For whatever reason, handle at Monticello is up at least 20% recently. Perhaps the success is due to the tracks’ commitment to continuity. Every Monday to Thursday you can count on the Monticello signal to be on the air with plenty of betting options for handicappers in every race.

“I wish I could say it was something I did,” said Wiles. “Monticello just seems to fill the afternoon void and the racing is competitive.”

While some tracks would just be content with the current success, Monticello is not resting on its laurels. The track adds a new pick five (race 3 daily) with a carryover and consolation starting on February 3. Wiles reported that he is hoping to partner with the USTA Strategic Wagering program to offer a guaranteed pool for the wager, but that would have to wait until initial handle numbers file in and they can gather some facts and figures.

Perhaps best of all to those in simulcast land, Monticello will soon be available in high definition. Wiles estimated a debut of the sharper images from the upstate New York track to occur just after President’s weekend.

Other handle conclusions

Major tracks prosper on weekends – Handle at Yonkers was 20-30% higher on Friday and Saturday versus Monday, Tuesday and Thursday. While this may not be a surprise to most, I was expecting the numbers on Monday to be much higher when the competition was a bit sparser. Ultimately the bottom line may be that during the weekend Yonkers has little competition from half mile tracks whereas they go heads-up against Northfield during the week.

Both Meadowlands and Woodbine handled much better on the weekends, as expected. But smaller tracks like Pompano and Western Fair, who hold their own nicely during the week, can’t keep up with the “big boys” on Friday and Saturday.

Players like options – Yonkers offers two races on every card—six and nine—with only exacta and trifecta wagering as exotic options. Race six is consistently one of the weakest from a handle standpoint during the week but perks up on the weekend when it is typically carded as the Open Handicap. Race nine performed poorly across the board for the week of January 19. That race averaged just $38,432 in handle compared to $53,424 for the other 11 races offered. It is a small sample size, but perhaps bettors are saying, “give us a superfecta”.

Purses really don’t matter – Of the tracks mentioned above (and even considering some numbers I was able to uncover from Freehold, Buffalo and The Meadows), there appears to be little connection between handle and quality of horses. How else do you explain tracks like Monticello and Cal Expo sitting fourth and fifth on my average handle list (below)?

Small tracks still have a place – While some people would like to have the sport rid itself of any track smaller in circumference than five-eighths of a mile, the statistics (although limited) seems to prove that after larger tracks (mile, seven-eighths), half mile tracks are the most popular. The top six handling tracks that week were all mile or half-mile tracks. And that list could grow to top seven with Freehold, which seems in the mix with Pompano Park for that spot.

Average per-race handle figures (week of Jan. 19, 2015)

Meadowlands $213,440
Woodbine 143,724
Northfield 60,737
Monticello 59,435
Cal Expo 56,172
Yonkers 52,174
Pompano 43,395
Western Fair 26,487
Fraser 20,904
Flamboro 20,892

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William Waters More than 1 year ago
Interesting article, Derick. I wish you could get the handle numbers for Chester and Dover. I suppose there are reasons those numbers are "classified."
Joel Weiner More than 1 year ago
Pretty amazing that Monticello has a higher handle than Yonkers with the likes of Sears & Brennan driving there. As one poster said it must be the lack of movement during the races and the lack of competive racing that is causing this. After the first eighth of a mile at Yonkers, one can go for a snack and come back in a minute and find the horses still lined up the same way they were before before you left. Really time to change things here. Management should be embarrassed that Monty has a higher handle.
Chris Robertson More than 1 year ago
It might be useful to repeat this exercise now that Balmoral Park has resumed racing.
wayne haehner More than 1 year ago
The increased handle is just an indicator of more and more money being allowed into the pools after the gate leaves. The boys in Lexington must be laughing all the way to the bank--pickpocketing all of the bettors. Racing's dirty little secret that no one wants to talk about--but everybody knows.
Dusty Nathan More than 1 year ago
One can explain Cal Expo has they get heavy exposure and live on-air feed to TVG. The one that seem inexplicable to me is YR drawing such lowly handle. Good column, Derick!
Jeff Biever More than 1 year ago
Yonkers could see a 20% increase in its handle by 1) eliminating the passing lane, and 2) releasing the horses well before the start, as Maywood does. This would ensure 1) better flow-right now, it is a lineup till at least the half, and 2) horses starting from posts 6, 7, and 8 would have a fighting chance, thus attracting more betting. Why these two cost-free changes are not done, is baffling.
Michael Zeisler More than 1 year ago
Monticello puts out a very good productthe racing is competitiveand now they've even added a pic 5
spanky More than 1 year ago
Very good column. Purses don’t matter to me. I'm mainly a pick 4 player. I go for the big pick 4 pools and carryovers. Meadowlands, Woodbine, Cal Expo and the smaller tracks when they build up. Yonkers in my eyes doesn't seem to protect the public anymore. Too many boring races with no movement. Too many courtesy tucks. The judges apparently don't care.
Bob Pandolfo More than 1 year ago
Good column.