The Belmont Stakes handle is in the books and it was a record year for the storied race. Yes it was a Triple Crown year so we should expect handle to be appreciably higher, but it was even higher than it was in 2004, when Smarty Jones was going for the Triple. This year, according to the DRF figures, handle was over $90 million on the race itself.
Just three and a half weeks ago, Pimlico's Preakness Day numbers were very good, as well. Via the Bloodhorse: "Total pari-mutuel handle on this year's 13-race program was $83,786,363,
up 2.2% from $81,939,228 last year for the same number of races."
And the Derby, the granddaddy of them all - maybe that's the Rose Bowl, but you get my drift - handle was large, too.
The Derby had terrible branding from not only a well publicized boycott, but also the litany of complaints from insiders. It was still good.
The Preakness card (sorry for being so blunt) was fairly awful. Shorter fields, some scratches, and a 'meh' array of chalk. Handle was fine.
Belmont was probably the only racecard that did not have bad branding going in. They stuffed a gazillion dollars (not quite that much, it might've been $8 million) of the racino money into purses and carded a few more stakes. They also finally approved a few new ADW's like Premier Turf Club, just in time for the Belmont. It looks like they could've done none of those things and handle still would've been up huge. It was a Triple Crown try after all.
Regardless, welcome to the Hotel Horse Racing. We can have PETA videos, short fields, takeout hikes, signal fee
nonsense, protectionism and just about everything else contributing to
the 40% or 50% decline in real wagering the last ten years - all of those things that turn people off and kill handle. However, you can stab this sport with your steely knives, but you can't kill the big day beast.
It's the immense power this niche sport has over the casual fan on these days. It's real and it's palpable.
Some might say the glass half empty (these people don't come back to wager on the sport until next year and never do long term, so who cares), or half full (the market is there, racing just has to tap it), depending on your perspective.
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