Updated on 09/16/2011 8:45AM

A weekend with plenty of action

Bill Denver/Equi-Photos
Three logical horses, Cetewayo ($5.80), With Anticipation (above, $6.80), and E Dubai ($11.80) combined for a $198 payoff in the NTRA Summer Pick Three.

NEW YORK - Horse racing took a page out of Hollywood with a blockbuster July 4 weekend, fueled by a variety of exotic wagers and nonstop action.

Breeders' Cup offered parimutuel future bets on three World Thoroughbred Championship races. Churchill Downs offered a pick four linking races at four tracks. And the National Thoroughbred Racing Association wrapped up its "Summer pick threes" with a bet linking three graded stakes races that were televised live on CBS.

In all, 30 Thoroughbred tracks ran live on July 4, or 10 more than normal for a summer Thursday. Forty racetracks held live cards on the busiest day of the weekend, Saturday.

With betting opportunities blossoming over the Internet and by telephone, it may have been the sport's best July 4 wagering handle. But hard numbers are difficult to come by.

"Fourth of July has always been the best weekend, going back at least 25 years," said Chris Scherf. "So you would think this was the best. But we're not going to get any numbers until the industry can all agree." Scherf was referring to the absence of a central accounting system, which has been notoriously difficult to implement in racing because of technology and cost issues.

Still, individual totals for the new bets reflect the overall interest. Handle for the three Breeders' Cup future bets, which offered betting on 23 individual horses and a field bet in each pool, was $173,844. More than half of the total, $85,919, was bet on the Classic. The Sprint had $48,193 and the Distaff $39,732. The favorites were Street Cry (4-1) in the Classic, Azeri (5-2) in the Distaff, and the field (9-2) in the Sprint.

Officials for Breeders' Cup, which merged with the NTRA last year, said they were pleased, especially considering the novelty of the wager. Although future bets have been offered by Churchill Downs on the Kentucky Derby for four years, this is the first time future betting has been offered on Breeders' Cup races.

Ken Kirchner, the vice president for product development of Breeders' Cup, said he cross-referenced the future-book odds with Bally's casino in Las Vegas, which offers fixed-odds future book wagering. He found that the Breeders' Cup parimutuel pools offered better prices on 30 of 68 horses.

One horse of the 69 that Breeders' Cup listed was scratched. Eighteen horses listed had higher odds at Bally's. Another 13 were offered at identical prices, and the remaining seven were not listed by Bally's, Kirchner said.

"That tells me the public got a square price on almost all the horses we gave them," Kirchner said.

The NTRA's pick three on July 6 had handle of $300,855, the best showing yet for the new bet and more than double the typical Saturday pick three pool at Belmont

Park or Hollywood Park. On June 15, the first pick three drew $218,277 in wagers. The second, on June 29, had handle of $175,606 but was hurt by short fields in two of the legs.

Winning bets returned $198 for selecting With Anticipation in the United Nations at Monmouth, Cetewayo in the Stars and Stripes Handicap at Arlington, and E Dubai in the Suburban at Belmont.

The NTRA actively promoted the wagers during the broadcasts on CBS, a new and somewhat risky concept for horse racing broadcasts. Most racing television coverage has shied away from promoting bets because of a fear that networks would turn racing away.

The NTRA is in an unusual position because the association buys the time on CBS and pays a subsidiary to produce them. The NTRA has used the three one-hour blocks to build interest in the World Thoroughbred Championships by promoting the significance of the races as Breeders' Cup preps, while at the same time promoting the new pick three.

"People are more likely to bet on Monday Night Football than other games, and that's just because it's on television," said Eric Wing, a spokesman for the NTRA.

"We believe more people are likely to bet on racing if it's on television. And betting is an inherent part of horse racing. The networks know that."

Ratings have been average for the racing broadcasts, with the first two Saturday afternoon shows drawing approximately 1 million viewers. But last weekend's broadcast drew 1.4 million viewers, according to the overnight ratings, and the NTRA is confident that viewership is being built.

Wing said the pick 3 handle totals exceeded the NTRA's expectations. But he said it is unlikely that the NTRA will offer other bets surrounding broadcasts this year, despite a glut of fall races on ESPN and ESPN2.

"But considering how we did this year, bettors can certainly expect more in 2003," Wing said.

Churchill Downs did not fare so well with its pick four this weekend. Handle was only $104,510, half of the debut pool on June 22 and down 33 percent from the June 29 pool.