Keeneland Juxtapositons, the Anecdotal & Leadership Bogs

There was a fascinating article today on Keeneland's handle. Officials at the track are leaning on weather as the culprit as a major reason handle is down. I know you've been following, and before yesterday weather was really not that bad (they've had the same number of off the turf races as last fall). But because of bad weather, fewer people want to bet an off track, field size shrinks because of scratches off the turf and so on. You know the drill. (if you read the article, Matt cites other reasons field size is down.)

Quickly doing a juxtapose dance, here's a similar story from 2011.  "Keeneland's Spring Meet Thrives Despite Inclement Weather"

"Withstanding the rainiest April on record in Central Kentucky, Keeneland's 2011 spring meeting ranked among the best in the track's 75-year history, posting strong attendance and handle figures. "If it were possible to chart adverse weather with all the race meet statistics, this would be one of the top Keeneland meets ever," Keeneland President and CEO Nick Nicholson said. "Synthetic surfaces are known as all-weather surfaces in Europe and ours certainly lived up to that moniker this spring."
Despite the nearly 13 inches of rain at Keeneland, the racing was quality and formful with relatively few scratches. All-sources handle on Keeneland marked a 9 percent increase. Total meet attendance for the spring season was 241,684 -- the third-highest for a spring meet ever.

Over at Woodbine, one of the few places that is doing well this month in racing (through similar weather to Lexington), field size is through the roof:

Keeneland's dirt race field size - well over 9.0 on the fake stuff - is a half a horse lower than Hawthorne at 8.2; despite the anecdotal "quotes" from vociferous horsemen saying how they were flooding the box if Keeneland switched to dirt. Meanwhile, Woodbine, thrives. Handle is up over 11% this month, clearly stealing horses and handle from Keeneland.

The anecdotal "no one likes betting poly", "I'll send you lotsa horses if you do 'X'" and other such tripe is not data; it's not information; it's not actionable; it's simply noise. Field size means handle, lower rake means handle. If you have those two determinants and you're racing on cherry jello you will get handle.

Meanwhile, Kentucky Downs, which has seen an over 300% handle increase the last few years and is a horseplayer darling, wanted more dates and applied for such with the Kentucky Racing Commission. With more dates they could build their brand that one day might be a "September Keeneland" with $8M to $10M handles. That's good for Kentucky and it's good for horse racing. Regardless, to me, you and the fencepost, this seemed like a no-brainer. That didn't happen. Churchill Downs - the track having customer issues, short fields that few want to bet, and drops in handle - was today's big winner with racedates.

We see one track - Keeneland - building a big betting brand with big handles take a step backwards this meet. Another track wanting to be like old Keeneland, is thwarted. When decisions are made on the anecdotal, on the political, on listening to noise - everything but numbers and science and strong leadership it seems - how can we expect anything good to happen?


Anonymous said...

on point. keeneland was a poster boy for needing an AW surface: Short meets influenced by bad weather. they can't complain about the weather when they changed to a track that can't handle the weather.

Tinky said...

As you know, it is now more complicated, as well.

Decades ago, trainers could get a pretty good handle on which of they runners handled off-tracks well, and would enter accordingly. Now, however, with the combination of hard-sealing and synthetic surfaces, it is very difficult to predict which horses (especially those without good early speed) are likely to be successful.


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