01/12/2018 5:34PM

Giwner: Time to call it a comeback at Yonkers Raceway?

Derick Giwner
Handle has been way up at Yonkers Raceway in 2018.

Let's give credit where credit is due. Whatever changes Cammie Haughton has put in place since becoming the Director of Racing seems to be working according to the numbers.

Granted the sample size is minuscule with only three racing dates contested, but year-over-year average handle per race is up an astronomical 73.6%. 

Opening day, January 7, North American commingled wagering was $1,398,314 for 12 races, seven of which were sent overseas for wagering via the French PMU. The same card from 2017 with 11 races and the exact number of French simulcast races produced just $725,392 in wagering dollars.

On Monday, January 8 the track saw wagering hit $664,744 for a 12-race card. That marked the first time they eclipsed the $600K plateau on a Monday since May 8, 2017 ($620,451) and demolished the $344,417 total the track handled on the comparable Monday (Jan. 9, 11 races) in 2017. It is worth noting that Northfield Park cancelled on Monday, but that can do as much harm as good since people who normally bet Northfield and dabble in Yonkers might just take the night off from betting.

Finally, the Tuesday, January 9 handle had to top even the most enthusiastic expectations. The $802,409 wagered on the 12-race card demolished the $442,606 (11 races) from the same date last year. Even more impressive is that it was the first time the track topped the $600,000 mark in handle on a Tuesday since August 16, 2016 and the total was the largest on a Tuesday in more than two years (former high was on March 1, 2016 at $719,788).

To what can we attribute this initial spike in handle? Was it the removal of the passing lane? Was it the introduction of longer post parades? Was it the earlier 6:50 p.m. post time?

I'd say none of the above, though anyone watching the product without the passing lane over the first few cards had to come away more entertained than in previous years. There was definitely more aggression and movement. The showcase for what every track would hope to offer was race 11 on Monday night. There was a three-way battle for the lead heading to the quarter-pole and action throughout the contest. It was fun to watch and entertaining. Most of all, everyone who wagered had to come away feeling they got their money's worth.

But back to why I believe handle is up, and it isn't some hidden gem of an idea--scheduling of post times. There is indeed an art to when you allow each race to start. You want a 2-6 minute window between your races and whatever major tracks you are competing against. Yonkers used to do this all the time when Haughton was the presiding judge and regularly handled two to three times what they averaged in 2017. Northfield Park does it . . . so does Pompano . . . and many others. 

Just like Hall of Fame MLB outfielder Willie Keeler said over 100 years ago about his success. You have to "Hit'em where they ain't." If you are the only track scheduled to go off for the next three to five minutes, logic states that there is a better chance that more people will be attracted to your product.

Imagine if we could get the industry to work together on this front? Take the top five or six handling tracks each night and have them race every three to four minutes, and to satisfy the masses who can't seem to embrace a post time drag, go off ON TIME.

The bottom line is for the first time in years on a domestic level, I've seen some signs of life from Yonkers Raceway, a track where I cut my teeth as a handicapper and spent countless nights in my late teens and 20s. My only immediate suggestion would be to add a Superfecta to races 6 and 9 as those races only have an exacta and trifecta right now.

I'm thrilled to see the efforts being taken by Haughton and I'm rooting for the track to soar to new heights.