At Saratoga, and at New York tracks' in general, handle has been up this season. Although they've had some wickedly bad press, and the politico's are heavily involved, the bad press, I believe was never really bad press as far as bettors were concerned. The message that went through early this season was twofold to punters. 1) There was a takeout reduction on exotics down to 24% (how this organization ever let it get up to 26% is shameful, but that's another story) and 2) Field size and betting opportunities should be better, which means more value. Value + value = a few more dollars in the til. New York's tagline this year is of "better racing, lower holds", is resonating.
Conversely, California struggles. The brand has suffered the last half dozen years and they can't seem to get their act together. Del Mar registered a paltry gain the last couple of weeks and other than the seaside buzz, punters seem less than thrilled with racing in that state. About five years ago the Head of Betting in Hong Kong told an Asian Gaming Conference that if they don't take measures (handles were falling, dropping to $7.7B in 2006) immediately, bettors will flee, and the nature of the horse bettor means they may never come back. They got to work, started a rebate program, lowering effective takeout and tried harder and harder to keep their bettors. Handle was over $10B this year. A lot of bettors that were married to the California brand have divorced, and it's going to take a lot to get them back, it seems, especially when instead of lowering takeout, they increased it in 2010.
We're about a month or so away from yearling sales season in Ontario and our business looks more and more screwed. I wrote that I thought yearling sales would be down 30%, on the supposition that we'd have our act together now and be promoting something to do with stakes races, and the sires program. There is nothing. How can a guy buy a yearling without knowing the minimum the sires stakes are going for? There is money in the til, there was a slush fund that has been held back. Some slots money will be churning until the end of March 2013 for 2013 purses. There is funding for it. Where is the information for horse owners, and potential horse owners heading to the sales? Uncertainty kills.
The lack of alarm in Ontario is flummoxing to me. We often complain that people don't act like they are a household; in government or big organizations and that, at times, is apropos. Let me ask you, if you were told that in one year you were going to lose your $8,000 per month job, would you continue to act like nothing happened? Would you continue to spend $7,500 a month, bring your family to London for the Olympics as planned, pick up a new Grand Cherokee because you want one, and live like nothing is going to change? The Battle of Waterloo, the Upper Canada Cup, the sires stakes - all like nothing has happened. Jeff Gural dropped the purse of the Meadowlands Pace $400,000 this year because that's what business does. We in Ontario seem to be living racing life like there's going to be $345 million for purses and profits next year.
Frankel goes tomorrow and he is apparently facing three horses. An article recently spoke of him, and his place in history, imploring him to face some competition. I agree. You can only face foes like this for so long, before the natives get restless. Wayne Gretzky could've played in the WHA all his life I guess, but he made his name in the NHL, and is looked at differently for doing so. It's time to let him fly the coop if you want him to be revered for a generation or two, and not be a footnote of a horse who had a fast Timeform rating.
A young Chinese swimmer is doing some crazy things in the pool and the natives are getting restless there, too. She's "dropping time" and "coming home like a freight train". Reading the coverage there has not been one person I saw say "she has not had a positive test so we can't say anything". Swimming, and other sports have been down that road before, so they don't. We have too in racing, but it seems that line stays in the lexicon of racings jargon.
Have a great Tuesday folks.
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