A Wild Weekend of Horse Racing

This weekend was, perhaps, the first weekend of the year where things felt alive. The Blue Grass Stakes, Wood Memorial and Santa Anita Derby were all run, and over at the harness races, an $847,000 Super High Five pool was paid out at Woodbine.

The Blue Grass Stakes, with an increased purse and the first time on the glorious dirt since 2006, was a short field, snoozy affair, with 2-5 shot Carpe Diem winning rather easily. I don't think we learned anything we didn't already know about that horse, or his opponents. The figure came back okay, but Carpe Diem really didn't seem to have to do much running. I don't make Derby selections until near the race, but I don't think he'll be on my tickets.

Handle for Blue Grass day was poor, and the fields surrounding the race were what we have come to expect at Keeneland in the new dirt age - short and tough to wager on. It looks like handle was down approximately 22% year over year. In the poly years, of course, 14 horse Blue Grass fields were prevalent.

The handle on the Blue Grass itself was down. The win, place show pools were the smallest since 1998, when there was only a five horse field with no show wagering (although last year's were not great either). The exacta pools were down to $712,000 from $905,000 last year, and were also the smallest since late the last century. I highly suspect Keeneland did not expect the handle to be down this much when they switched to dirt. Some also expected a fuller field with the $250,000 purse increase, but that was never really possible, in my opinion.

Of note, Nick Nicholson's last Blue Grass day at the Keeneland helm set records: Wagering of almost $22 million, attendance of 41,000 and a real buzz. Compared to the 25k and approximately $15M in handle Saturday, it's a big drop. Nick, in my view, was one of the best executives this business has ever had.

The Wood was a fun race, I thought. I, like some of you on the twitter, wanted to bet back Frosted, because he looked like he wanted to run home like a Pegasus Gulfstream statue in the Fountain of Youth, before clearly having something go wrong. Unfortunately, he was 2-1. Daredevil, the massive fig horse from last year did not fire a lick. Distance concerns aside, he was fried after 7 furlongs and had no go.

Wood day handle was down as well, and one of the reasons why was that last pick 4. There just weren't enough combinations. It felt like we were betting Yonkers. The business has to be constantly reminded that if we don't have good races to bet, we won't bet, no matter what the purse is.

Over in So Cal, the hype horse, Dortmund, got the job done nicely once again. He could be the Derby favorite. He's a big lumbering dude, who has been beating overmatched horses. I think he needs some seasoning so he won't be on my tickets either, more than likely in a month. I think he has a chance to be a really nice horse, win or lose on the first Saturday in May.

At Woodbine, the Super High Five paid out and it was the largest pool in Canadian horse racing history (about $3 million). The Queen's Plate has print and TV advertising, national TV coverage, Queen's themselves come out for a wave, the stands are packed and it's been a staple for like 130 years. But no single race handle came close to Saturday's final race with optional 30 claimer pacers in the snow. One day in the future, the powers that be will realize this game can thrive if it's a betting game.

The effective rake on the Super High Five bet was nil, and value was aplomb, so the money flowed and flowed and flowed in.

Here's a snapshot of just how good that payout was (standardized to 20 cent payouts).

I saw a neat conversation on the twitter today.

I gotta side with Bruno on this one. If Wise Dan was racing instead of a bunch of three year olds most have never seen, do people stay? I think so.Secretariat's Wood Day might've been an afterthought for a casual fan, but after the Belmont it was wall to wall people. It takes time for Zenyatta to be on 60 Minutes and it takes time for any horse to gain a following.

Have a nice Monday everyone.


scorptraduh said...

Ok I know weather is a lame excuse...but any idea what weather was like on record breaking Blue Grass day vs Saturday...which was chilly according to my phone..

BitPlayer said...

Wasn't the University of Kentucky involved in the semifinals of some basketball tournament last Saturday? That may have distracted a lot of the locals.

Anonymous said...

I had to comment and agree with you on Nick Nicholson.
One of the best executives of all time. Nick really wanted to make the betting game flourish at Keeneland and he succeeded. It WAS the perfect racetrack.That being said, other racing entities fought his every move when he initially tried to lower takeout. Nick had the vision, they did not. End of story.
Fast forward to the new dirt surface and my opinion of Keeneland has totally changed. On the poly, it was one of the greatest betting tracks in the world. Today the reality is that Keeneland is not on my betting radar at all. This is only my opinion but I really think the that if Woodbine has big fields to wager on, avoid being just another speed biased racetrack, can get some momentum on a low takeout bet and generate record pools like the harness meet did their handle numbers on the poly are going to be off the charts. This really could be a game changer for WEG.
Michael A


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