Steve Crist, Publisher and Columnist for the Daily Racing Form, has been crunching some numbers that are recently released in the Jockey Club Fact book. He notes some interesting facts and figures about the state of racing in North America. It is primarily runners, but since track execs and horseman groups (as well as takeouts and race dates) are not dissimilar, this should be able to apply to harness as well.
I haven’t linked the piece yet (I will do that below). I did that because it’s time for a quiz! Gosh, we all like quizzes :)
1. The USA and Canada have:
a) Twice as many races a year than Great Britain
b) Three times as many
c) Five times as many
d) More than 5 times as many
Answer is d). In the North America (I assuming Canada is grouped in this) 52,000 races take place a year. In the UK the number is 9,000.
2. True or False: The US gives out more dollars in purses than Japan.
Answer: True. The US gave out about $937M in purses, while Japan gave out $719M. But the kicker? Japan raced 18,000 races and the US 52,000.
3. Horseman and horse owners often complain that they do not get “their fair share” from handle to purses in North America. Horseman disputes seem to happen yearly about this statement.
So, question 3: How much more goes to purses from handle in the UK than we get here in North America?
a) The UK contributes twice as much
b) Three times as much
c) Four times as much
d) None of the above
The answer is d). In the UK 0.99% of all handle goes to purses. In the North America, over 6% of handle goes to purses.
4. With 52,000 races, North America leads the world in gross handle. True or False.
Answer: False. Yes, it is false. Nowhere in the world is even close to offering the number of races we show on a yearly basis here in North America and we have around 25% of the Worlds Gross Domestic Product, yet we do not lead the world in gross handles! We rank third, behind Japan and the UK. There goes the “it’s competition” argument, by the way. The UK has more things to bet on than we have probably by a factor of about 100. This is a frightening stat.
5. North America per capita wagering is higher than that in the country of Turkey. True or False.
Answer: True. North American per capita wagering - out of the 12 countries surveyed - ranks 11th. Turkey is 12th. We are second last. Let’s break out the bubbly. We beat one country in the world – Turkey.
Mr. Crist notes the following:
These results suggest three obvious conclusions:
1. We run way too many races in this country, and less product would probably not mean a decrease in total betting or purses, given the evidence elsewhere.
2. Though American racehorse owners constantly complain about not getting a sufficient return on investment, in comparison to other countries, we do a pretty efficient job of directing betting commissions back to owners through purses.
3. If you add population to the equation, you can get either very depressed about how thin racing's reach is in this country or, if you're the half-full type, see enormous potential for expanding that reach.
There is clearly not the demand for 52,000 races in North America. This spreading of our betting dollars into a thin line like this only hinders us from growing our game. We know it, the tracks know it, the horsepeople know it, the owners know it. But like most things in racing, if it doesn’t make sense, we keep doing it.
Time for the bonus question:
With the above stark facts upon us and the spiral that the pari-mutuel business has been in the last 20 years, track executives and horseman groups should do which of the following:
a) Raise Takeouts
b) Go on strike for more race dates
c) Put together a million dollar commission to study the issue
d) Find someone new to run racing
I would not blame you if you chose d). After reading the above I don’t have much faith in them either.
Steve Crist's piece is an excellent one and it includes many facts and figures. The comments that follow are also very good. You can read it at drf.com here.