Stakes & Schedule

Yesterday Woodbine announced changes to their stakes schedule. The $1.5 million North America Cup is now $1 million, the Metro is $700,000 instead of a million and several other stakes have been trimmed or eliminated as part of the new reality. (full story here, pdf)

Woodbine is in a very precarious position. They've always been a leader in stakes racing, and they want to continue that, while balancing a fine line with overnights to run their live betting business. I think they were right to trim these stakes.

Stakes racing in harness is an elephant in the room. For slots tracks, upping a stakes race was a way to do nothing more than use up the slots purse pool. Time after time it seems stakes were upped, like the Upper Canada Cup, by several hundred thousand or so, just because. No rhyme, no reason. It's not much different at some thoroughbred tracks, like Philly Park which upped their purse for the PA Derby last year.

What I would like to see from Woodbine, and other tracks too, is a better scheduling and marketing of a stakes season. The present culture of a stakes race at a disparate date on the calendar is not profit maximizing, in my opinion. They need to be packaged better to ensure better handles. Ascot is Ascot, Del Mar is Del Mar, Saratoga is Saratoga, Jug week is Jug week. There is more they can do if they create something new.

Speaking of scheduling, it has always stuck in my craw that races are not scheduled better. This was written about in harness racing update today (page 3 pdf).
  • One would think a "Harness Racing Control Room" at the very least makes some sense. Packaging the product - say three tracks running races each eight minutes - and selling it should improve handle. For example, if on a dead Tuesday evening tracks like Yonkers, Northfield and Balmoral
    all worked together, it may be successful. If this triumvirate of signals was talked about via a main feed, or even better perhaps, they purchased time on TVG for a "Tuesday Night Harness Night", it might be lucrative. On Saturday evenings, Woodbine and the Meadowlands are obvious partners as well.

The Meadowlands did $3M last evening for the first time in a long time. We'll write about this more next week, but this fits perfectly into what makes a tracks' handle tick: Distribution of a signal, not worrying about a signal fee to increase interest, the snowball of higher handle in a game crying for it, and full fields.

Have a great Saturday.

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