05/18/2017 2:10PM

Lack of comprehensive data seen as main hurdle in popularizing international racing in U.S.

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WASHINGTON – Betting across international borders suffers from a lack of data and relevancy to horseplayers in foreign markets, racing officials said on Thursday at the Pan American Conference during a panel examining horseplayers’ issues.

The comments by the panel, which included Daily Racing Form chief executive John Hartig and two officials from Britain, played up the problems that racing companies have encountered when attempting to expand distribution of their products beyond their own borders. Over the past decade, companies in the U.S. have been among the most aggressive in attempting to attract wagers from foreign jurisdictions, due in large part to stagnating or falling handle figures at home.

But those efforts have yet to bear much fruit, with international handle on U.S. races still a small fraction of the total bet on U.S. racetracks. Panelists suggested on Thursday that bettors may be failing to embrace foreign races for a number of reasons, with one large factor being differences in the quantity and quality of past-performance data on horses.

Bettors in the U.S. are especially sensitive to the lack of data on foreign horses, according to Hartig. DRF operates its own account-wagering company and recently completed a survey of its players on international racing.

“They want data products, they want Beyer Speed Figures,” Hartig said of the survey results.

That is easier said than done. Many a North American horseplayer has received a rude awakening when traveling to European racetracks after finding out that past-performance data on the continent is far less comprehensive than the data offered on North American horses at home.

Alan Byrne, the chief executive of the Racing Post – a publication in Britain that is akin to DRF in its marriage of horse-racing editorial content and past-performance data (though limited) – said international companies seeking to draw handle from British bettors needed to present their data in a format familiar to local bettors or provide foreign customers with enough information to justify taking an interest in a race.

“I do think it goes to a package of content and making U.S. racing as relevant to as many customer groups as possible,” Byrne said. At the same time, he said, in many jurisdictions, because of differences in local data-collection policies, “there is some data that your customers are accustomed to that is just simply not going to be available.”

Bettors in the UK have not exactly embraced foreign racing. Byrne said that of the total amount bet in Britain bookmaking shops on horse racing, only 8 percent is on races from “foreign jurisdictions or Irish racing.”

Phil Siers, the chief commercial officer of Betfred, which runs the British tote, said bettors also need to become familiar with a product before they bet on it regularly. That means that a foreign racing product, such as Churchill Downs, needs to be shown continuously, without gaps in coverage, when the meet is available.

“Continuity is the real crux of it,” Siers said. “There are a number of people who are just in a betting shop who just want to get a bet down, but the nature of racing is having an opinion.”

Much of the focus in the U.S. over the past decade has been on expanding to Europe due to restrictions on the importation of simulcasts to many countries in Asia, where average per-race handles in some countries are stratospheric when compared to the same figures in the U.S. However, last year, Japan loosened its rules to allow for the importation of as many as 24 races each year, generating interest from the U.S. in attracting Japanese horses to races in order to make the approved list.

Churchill Downs, the New York Racing Association, and the Breeders’ Cup have all recently put in place policies designed to encourage a Japan-based horse to run in their races.

Last year, the presence of a Japanese horse in the Prix de l’Arc de Triomphe in France generated $40 million in wagers by Japanese residents on the race. A Japanese horse, Epicharis, is currently pointed toward the Belmont Stakes, and officials at the track are hopeful it will trigger a decision in Japan to allow betting on the race.