There was an interesting diddy on the Paulick Report regarding Breeders' Cup handle versus Kentucky Derby Day handle. The Cup's handle has been stagnating (or falling per race) while the Derby handle has been growing. Many comments have focused on what the Cup might be doing wrong (too many races, bad marketing to upscale etc) and what the Derby has done right. But I am of the opinion that we're comparing apples to alligators.
What we've seen over the last five to ten years in racing has been handle degradation on the overall 365 "game" of horse racing. Some of it is field size related, some of it takeout related, some of it due to the fact that fewer races are being contested. But that degradation has been real.
Buttressing those handle losses has been the "big meet" increase we've seen at places like Keeneland, and to some extent Del Mar and Saratoga. Your average every day player might not be finding races he wants to bet on a Tuesday at Arlington, but he or she was finding it at the bigger meets.
Until recently. Those meets - outside Kentucky Downs - have recently been befallen like the longer meets have been since 2008.
The Breeders' Cup is really one big, super meet. It's two days of some of the best wagering on earth, but just like Keeneland or Del Mar, it's a slave to the current betting market - a betting market that has been shrinking. They're still putting the line in the pond with a really nice, juicy delectable feast as bait, but there are fewer fish in the pond.
Conversely, the Derby - one day, branded and a piece of Americana - doesn't need to fish in a pond of bettors. It fishes in a pond filled with people wanting to play the Derby. The TV ratings for it are not up because there are many millions more racing fans, it's up because of things like population growth, and well, people "watch the Derby in May". This is why many (me included) felt it made perfect sense to increase the Churchill rake for the Derby, but leaving it the hell alone for the rest of the meet.
Similarly, Belmont had a great day Belmont Day, but what do they do without a potential Triple Crown champion? Probably still okay because the Triple Crown races are branded to a mass audience.
Racing has gone from being a skill game with a massive four or five day a week betting market to a market which waits for big meets, to one that seems to show up in the pools only on big Triple Crown days. The Breeders' Cup finds itself caught up in that.
Perhaps next year will be much better. People may be excited for Keeneland as a new venue and they may open their wallets a little more on a fairer track and better turf course. I don't know. But the long term trend in Cup handle, in my view, will be correlated more to aggregate yearly handle statistics than parties, pick 6's, Richie Sambora, or anything else.
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