I read with interest this morning Jennie Rees' story on Kentucky Derby 138.
She says "If the strength of a field can be determined by its lowest rung, consider El Padrino in the May 5 Kentucky Derby."
El Padrino was a hot horse earlier this year and one which is still feared by many. He'll likely be a longshot.
The Derby may be an exception of course, but it does illustrate something that you and I find common sensical, that racing seems to grapple with: Card a race worth gambling on, and people will gamble on it.
If we look at handle losses the past ten years, we see places like California, who carded (and still does to some extent) races for owners, instead of bettors. You could not go one week on a chat board and not see a player complaining about four and five horse fields; there are literally thousands of posts on the subject at places like Paceadvantage.com. California all source thoroughbred handles lost upwards of 50% the past decade - yes, half their business. Plus, they've had two takeout increases. It's arguably the most unfriendly jurisdiction to customers in North America.
Conversely we see places like Keeneland - the contrast is stark.
Some folks will say well, yes, it's Keeneland. They've got it all. But it's not the case.
Look at Balmoral Park in Chicago. Handle is up 35%, and nightly it is not far off Woodbine's handle. It's higher than what it was 5 years ago (what recession?). Purses are small, it's not a short meet, it doesn't have a Kentucky Derby. There are no slots churning in the halls of the track. There are no bands or food truck parties. Kegasus isn't greeting customers, there are no daily cap or bobblehead giveaways.
What they do is something quite simple: They card races that bettors want to bet, and they do it at a fair price.
"We want everyone to know we're a good gamblers track" said the track marketing dude.
When you card races for your horsemen's group, or board of directors, you get some pats on the back and a couple of "atta boys". When you card races for your customers, you get customers.
For the full story on how Balmoral has done it this past several years, please click here. (pdf, page 2)
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