Purse Strings
Photo:
Ray Paulick
Editor-in-Chief
Daily average purses at Gulfstream Park in 1999--the final year it was run by Doug Donn--totaled $331,889, or $30,930 per race.

Today, seven years after South Florida's premier racetrack was purchased by Frank Stronach's Magna Entertainment, daily average purses total $306,175, or $30,225 per race. Statistics, courtesy of The Jockey Club Information Systems, are through April 9, 2006. The meet ends April 23.

The median purse per race--the middle number that factors out top-heavy prize money from the Sunshine Millions and other stakes--has fallen from $30,000 in 1999 to $17,500 in 2006.

Thus, from 1999 to 2006, average daily purses are down 7.7%, average purse per race is down 2.2%, and median purse per race is down 41.7%. Factors that account for varying rates of decline from 1999 to 2006 are fewer races per day and heavier concentration of money into the stakes program.

Since purses are roughly equivalent to the revenue a racetrack earns from betting turnover, you can assume Magna's revenue has similarly declined.

These numbers can't be what Stronach envisioned while his company was investing more than $325 million to buy and rebuild Gulfstream Park and develop an off-site training center to fortify South Florida's winter racing program.

This was to be the year Gulfstream Park regained momentum after running its 2005 meeting in the shadow of construction cranes and using tents to accommodate racegoers. Yet daily average purses and purse per race are down marginally from 2005--reflecting no gains in pari-mutuel handle. Median purse per race saw a small uptick from $17,000 in 2005 to $17,500 this year.

Owners racing at Florida's two other tracks have benefited from purse increases since 1999. Daily average purses at Calder grew 14.3%, reaching $226,638 in 2005. Median purse per race, however, has remained a constant $17,000.

Tampa Bay Downs is one of racing's true success stories-and one that isn't driven by revenue from slot machines. Daily average purses there have grown 81.9% since the 1998-99 season, with the median purse per race up 58.7%. Tampa Bay's current meeting is offering daily average purses of $157,451 and a median purse per race of $11,900.

Slot machines could fuel an increase in purses for the 2007 Gulfstream Park meeting, but the state's onerous tax on the gambling devices leaves very little for the track and owners to share.

It's time for Magna and Gulfstream executives to refocus their energies on the core business of selling pari-mutuel tickets on horse racing. Based on their seven-year track record, they have not been very successful.

HAIL, CESARIO
Cesario, who with her victory in the 2005 American Oaks Invitational at Hollywood Park became the first Japanese-bred to win a grade I race in the U.S., brought great joy to the 230 partners comprising the Carrot Farm racing club that owned and shared in her $2.5 million in earnings. They were looking forward to many more opportunities to see her race, since the racing club contract calls for mares to race--barring injury--until March of their 5-year-old season. Cesario was injured this year at age four, however, and her retirement was announced April 3.

The Carrot Farm partners did not profit from the Special Week filly's increased value as a grade I-winning broodmare prospect. Katsumi Yoshida's Northern Farm bred Cesario and sold her for approximately $160,000 to Carrot Farm, a racing club he owns. Under terms of the contract, Northern Farm has the right to buy any of its horses back at the completion of their careers for 10% of the original sale price. In other words, Yoshida paid $16,000 for one of the top broodmare prospects in the world.

Most Popular Stories