11/06/2017 1:32PM

Multi-race exotics key increase in Breeders' Cup betting

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Wagering on the 13 races of the Breeders’ Cup this year, held on Friday and Saturday at Del Mar Thoroughbred Club in Del Mar, Calif., rose for the second straight year, with both years showing the strongest gains in the pools for multi-race wagers, according to data collected from Equibase charts.

Wagering this year on the 13 races was $135.46 million, according to the charts, up 5.7 percent compared with wagering on the same races last year. The total was the highest since the 2013 event, when betting was just slightly higher, at $135.52 million. Total betting declined in both 2014 and 2015 despite the presence of superstars California Chrome and American Pharoah.

Both the 2016 and 2017 events were propelled by strong gains in the pools for the pick three, pick four, pick five, and pick six. Total betting in 2017 in those pools was $34.1 million, up 11.6 percent, while betting in the straight and vertical-exotic pools was $101.4 million, up 3.9 percent.

In 2016, the gains in the multi-race pools were even stronger, with betting up 18.3 percent, accounting entirely for the overall wagering gain of 1.7 percent .(A pick six carryover last year of $511,000 led to a Saturday pick six pool of $4.6 million.) Betting in the straight and exotic pools for last year’s event, held at Santa Anita in Arcadia, Calif., was actually down 2.5 percent, according to an analysis of the data.

The Breeders’ Cup this year was held five weeks after new tax rules went into effect allowing bettors to count the entire investment in a single pool for the purposes of determining tax-reporting and withholding requirements on winning wagers. The changes are most beneficial to players who prefer multi-race wagers and superexotic bets such as the trifecta and superfecta.

According to the National Thoroughbred Racing Association, which lobbied for the tax changes, 35 tickets sold on-track at Del Mar on Friday and Saturday triggered tax reporting or withholding requirements, compared to 1,333 tickets on the two days last year. Of the total, 20 triggered automatic reporting, while 15 also triggered automatic withholding. In total, $138,753 was automatically withheld from the tickets this year, compared with $313,446 last year.

Total betting on the two cards of racing held on Friday and Saturday at Del Mar was $166.1 million, according to the Breeders’ Cup, the second-highest of all time and up 3.8 percent compared with the total handle on the two Breeders’ Cup days last year. The all-time high was set in 2010, when bettors wagered $173.9 million on two cards held at Churchill Downs in Louisville, Ky.

The jump in total handle occurred despite slight declines in betting on the event’s two marquee races, the Classic on Saturday and the Distaff on Friday. Total handle on the Classic was $27.9 million, down 1.0 percent, while total handle on the Distaff was $11.5 million, down 5.1 percent. The Classic handle was impacted most significantly by the $1.06 million drop in pick six betting.

Attendance at Del Mar came to 70,220 over the two days. The per-capita wagering figure this year for the two days was $358, a number that was 40 percent higher than the next-best per-capita figure, which came in 2007, when total attendance over the two days was 69,584 at Monmouth Park in New Jersey. The per capita was also roughly double the $178 last year at Santa Anita, when attendance was 118,484 over the two days.

In large part, the per capita benefited from the cap on attendance at Del Mar, a facility with a small footprint. On both days, attendance was limited to 37,500 people, and any restriction on ontrack attendance tends to limit the number of people at the track who are only casual fans of the sport, the ones who might bet $50 or $60 over the course of the day. Total ontrack betting on Friday and Saturday at Del Mar was $25.2 million, the highest ever for the event since it expanded to two days in 2007 and up 29 percent over last year’s ontrack figure.

Craig Fravel, the chief executive officer of Breeders’ Cup, said that the relative affluence of this year’s attendees had a large impact on the handle, noting that despite the cap on attendance, revenue from reserved seating topped $15 million this year, compared with $9.2 million last year at Santa Anita. That indicated that the grandstand was filled with hard-core fans and bettors. 

“I also think people were having an extraordinarily good time,” said Fravel, who is the former president and general manager of Del Mar. “I got a lot of people telling me after the event how there was such a good vibe from the day. Certainly feeling good doesn’t hurt handle.”

Next year’s Breeders’ Cup will return to Churchill Downs, the site of eight previous Breeders’ Cup events. The location for the 2019 event has yet to be determined.