Updated on 09/18/2011 1:28AM

Handle a high, TV rating a low


Preliminary total handle figures for the eight Breeders' Cup races on Saturday at Churchill Downs in Louisville set a record at $132 million, a total that is expected to rise to $134 million when separate-pool totals from several foreign countries are added into the figures, the director of simulcasting for Breeders' Cup said on Monday.

Compared with preliminary figures on the Monday following the Breeders' Cup card last year, handle on the eight Breeders' Cup races was up 14 percent, the largest year-to-year gain since 1999. Handle was up on every race but the Breeders' Cup Juvenile, and betting on the Breeders' Cup Classic was up $8.1 million, or 44 percent.

The strong betting totals contrasted sharply with the overnight rating for the nearly six-hour broadcast on ESPN, the first time that the event had been shown on the network. The overnight rating was a 0.9, the lowest rating ever for the event and a 47 percent decline from last year's overnight rating of 1.7. Each rating point equals approximately 740,000 households.

ESPN is in the first year of an eight-year deal with Breeders' Cup to broadcast the event. The deal, which includes revenue-sharing elements, moved the Breeders' Cup off a national broadcast network for the first time in its 22-year history.

John Skipper, an ESPN executive vice president, said that despite the decline in ratings the network viewed the show as a success, in part because of increased exposure on other ESPN platforms like ESPN.com.

"Our multimedia coverage allowed racing fans to follow all the Breeders' Cup racing on numerous ESPN platforms," Skipper said in a statement. "We are gratified with the results and look forward to many more years working with our Breeders' Cup partners."

Mark Mandel, a spokesman for the network, said that page views of the ESPN.com Breeders' Cup site was up 30 percent compared with last year. National ratings are expected to be released on Tuesday.

Last year, total handle on the eight Breeders' Cup races at Belmont Park was $116 million, up 6opercent from 2004, even though Breeders' Cup prohibited 10 high-volume offshore rebate shops from betting into the commingled pools because of regulations in New York. This year, customers at those shops were allowed back into the pools.

Ken Kirchner, Breeders' Cup's director of simulcasting, acknowledged Monday that allowing the offshore shops to come back into the pool contributed to the increase in handle this year. But he also said that the handle gains could not be solely attributed to the rebate shops because of the outsize gains this year compared to prior years. Handle from 2002 to 2004, for example, was static, going from $108.6 million to $109.9 million in the two-year period.

In addition, the time between each race on the card was extended by three minutes this year, allowing for additional betting ontrack, at simulcast sites, and through betting accounts.

A total of 104 horses competed in the eight races this year, up four percent from last year's 100. The Classic, which drew $26.7 million in wagers this year compared with $18.6 million last year, had 13 horses, the same as last year. Kirchner speculated that the hype surrounding the even-money favorite, Bernardini, contributed to the strong betting totals.

Betting on the $3 million-guaranteed pick six was $4,786,481. Two winning tickets were sold worth $1,450,707 each before taxes, both through account-wagering operations: XpressBet, which is owned by Magna Entertain Ment Corp., and a telephone betting operation owned by Hinsdale Greyhound Park in New Hampshire. Kirchner said that it was not known where the bettors physically resided, but that one winner used an $8,900 ticket and the other a $38,000 ticket.

"These were real players who were investing a lot of money in trying to hit it," Kirchner said.

During three of the last four years, no single ticket had all six winners. In 2003, one ticket had all six winners.

Total handle on the 10-race Churchill Downs card on Saturday was also a record, at $138 million. Kirchner said that another $2 million will likely accrue to the total when separate-pool wagers from Italy, Mexico, South Africa, and several other countries are included.

Attendance at Churchill Downs on Saturday was 75,132, the third-highest of all time. The temperature on Saturday in Louisville was in the low 50's during the card, and the skies were mostly cloudy. The two events that had higher attendance were also held at Churchill Downs, in 2000 and 1998.

Ontrack betting at Churchill on the 10-race card was $18,259,971, a record by nearly $2 million dollars. The previous record was set of $16,346,688 was set in 2003 at Santa Anita Park in Southern California, on a 12-race card.