TimeformUS has their usual interesting (and more in-depth than anywhere you'll see) take on handle numbers in Thoroughbred racing for the second quarter up on their blog. June, where handle ticked up slightly, was a good month for racing, with decreased field sizes. Of course, this was skewed by a Triple Crown try, where not only Belmont, but pretty much everyone had a good weekend. But even leaving that out, I think the numbers are good.
Loss of race dates means handle will be off as a rule, yes, but it does not have to be a death knell. There are people who want to bet races, if the races are good enough, and a lot of them are waiting in the wings for opportunities. As is often said, give us 7 tens instead of 10 sevens. That racing did this with ten sevens is a positive.
Hong Kong, which prescribes to the seven tens theory, saw a record handle this year of US$13.1B. Only six or seven short years ago handle in HK was around US$8B. They've grown and despite hiccups, have held their brand. They are the World's number one destination for horse racing gamblers.
Timeform also looks at favorites percentage and ROI by field size. This is something that some powers in racing do not understand about us as gamblers. When you card short fields, sure it hurts exotic wagering because of the lack of combinations, but it is more than that. In short fields high takeout becomes not only impossible to beat, but impossible to hold gambler interest. If your game is impossible to beat it is not a game at all, but a place where people congregate to buy fare at food trucks.
Another thing the TF figures show is that average field size is about what Churchill Downs had last meet for field size. In other words, the track fed logic that field sizes were the big reason for their decline has more holes in it than a bucket at a New Hampshire shooting range.
People constantly talk (it's much less now than several years ago as people understand gambling more and more) about what a Triple Crown winner would do for horse racing. I think it's obvious that we saw in June is its more important to have a Triple Crown try in racing. Belmont TV viewership was about what it was for the Derby. Their card was beefed up and did big handles, (although I am sure you could've carded five claimers and got a huge boost too).
On Belmont Day they promoted their 4th of July weekend card, and it did well ($18 million according to Alan here). Big Days are where its at. The Met Mile card and their $16M-$20M handle went poof when they moved those stakes to Belmont Day, so it's one less big race day to promote and I think that's no damn good long term, but at least Belmont and NYRA are trying some things to promote the sport and get people to wager by carding bigger fields.
This TC try was good for the here and now, but I wonder about next time. With the issues during and especially immediately after the races were over, the branding had to take a hit. Will the thousands of people who suffered the assorted issues come back? Is this negative branding long term?
Yesterdays Queen's Plate card was very good, with a lot of bettable races. Handle looks to be quite good again this year.
I remember being on a panel at the Canadian Gaming summit in 2008 and I asked "why don't you [Woodbine] promote wagering more when you are on TV?" It's always been something that bothered me. There's a big race and we see feature after feature about a feed man while there's some betting going on. The answer bordered on promoting wagering being a gray area on the airwaves.
Lately that changed. Yesterday on TSN the Super High Five mandatory payout was promoted heavily. With a million dollar pool, there's a chance someone could win a million for twenty cents. I think they can even do better next year at promoting it. I believe a pool like this, done right, can achieve monster handles on QP Day, if they stick with it and make it part of the Queen's Plate brand.
Speaking of big cards, the Big M ran the Pace elims on Saturday night and the field is set for next Saturday's big day. It's a 6:30 post. We'll have more on that this week.