Ray Paulick has run an opinion piece from Fred Pope about a potential match-up and big racing day. The protagonists are Rachel Alexandra and Zenyatta, the two top mares in racing. Mr. Pope has long held the belief that if the tracks take the bulk of the cash from betting, racing will be in good shape.
To make a statement for all racehorse owners about the upside-down, off-track revenue model that bled $500 million out of purses this year, the owners of these two magnificent fillies have a timely opportunity.
For the big event, the fillies’ owners would agree the race would have no set purse amount, but instead they would get 100% of the takeout from on-track wagers on the race. In effect, the racehorse owners take the risks.
By locking out all off-track wagering and televised coverage, if we can get a crowd of 80,000 and drive the on-track handle to $20 million, the takeout for the purse would be $4 million gross. If we paid back to 6th place, there is a huge incentive for the owners of other good fillies to enter the race and drive the handle higher.
Protectionism at its finest. And it never works.
Somehow we are supposed to get 80,000 people to a racetrack. And they have to leave any handhelds, phones, or computing devices at home. They also have to bet about $200 or so, or about 1000% more than on-track patrons bet normally on a whole card, but do it on one race. How many people are going to bet $250 on one race, which probably is not a good betting affair to begin with ($4.40 ex and a $6.60 ex respectively with the two chalk). The answer is: Not very many.
I recently returned from Xtreme horsepower at Georgian Downs. It was a great day. Thousands of people attended - race fans and new fans from everywhere. The line-ups for concessions were twenty deep. The tarmac was fairly full, the rides and games attended and the weather was good.
That crowd bet $200,000 on 12 races.
Mr. Pope should realize that on-track patrons, or fans, or new fans don't bet much. The real betting is done at home, or off-track. That is where handle comes from.
What will end up happening if such a day ever would occur (and it won't) is the following:
Offshore pirates will reap all the rewards. You can not watch the racing day on TV, but you will be able to bet it. Money lines will be placed up all over the world so people can stay at home and bet. No revenue will go to racing, and even if people wanted to travel many miles to bet the race, pay fees for parking, walk miles to the track, stand in line to bet into 22% takeouts and spend hours at the track - they won't have to. The offshores love this idea.
People will bet what they generally bet on track. They won't get 80,000 people for a horse race, but if they got 40,000 (which would be great for an event like this) they would bet the usual $20 a head. Handle would be about $800,000 tops. If you do not distribute the signal, handle falls. It is a modern truism.
We are supposed to march to a drum that raising prices on bettors, making them come to a track and bet, make it more difficult for them to bet, and inconvenience them will result in a raising of revenues and be a good thing for the sport. Ouch.
The constant barrage of old time thinking that permeates us in racing is flat-out mind-boggling. This is not 1938, it is 2009. The internet is here, racing is being distributed far and wide and people are playing it in other ways. We have kids, two parent working households, traffic snarls where a drive to work takes two hours instead of ten minutes, and many things to do with our time and money. People are not going to the track like they used to, just like they are not going to see minor league baseball, or junior hockey like they used to. It is never coming back. Without bringing racing to the masses, we are finished.
I spoke to a bettor yesterday. He was watching and betting an Irish race. There were horses he never had heard of, in a place he could not find on the map. There were a few people watching the race live - and the kicker was, it was a race that was being run on a beach. Yes, not on a track, but on a beach. A race on the beach, in the middle of nowheresville attracted $300,000US of betting on Betfair from at home players. What is the handle without them? Peanuts, that's what.
Yes the world has changed. And it can change for the better in racing if we place ideas like Mr. Pope's where they belong - back in 1938. They have absolutely no business being proposed in this century.