Officials Blame Weather for Breeders' Cup Wagering Declines
Sub-par track conditions resulting from an estimated three inches of rain over four days was blamed for a double-digit drop in all-sources handle from last year’s wagering record set at Churchill Downs, based on a Saturday-to-Saturday comparison.
Bettors feeding into closed pools wagered $111,903,685 on the Oct. 27 (Saturday) card at Monmouth Park, according to preliminary data, initially yielding a 20.3% decline from the $140,332,198 recorded at Churchill Downs in 2006.
Factoring in an estimated $5 million from separate pools in countries such as Hong Kong, Australia, and France -- wagering totals that aren’t validated until a few days after the Breeders’ Cup -- the overall decline ranges from 16% to17%. That's better, but still a significant decline.
“The reality is, if we had this weather the last four days, our numbers would have been significantly higher,” said Greg Avioli, Breeders’ Cup president and chief executive officer, addressing the Oct. 28 media breakfast on a crisp, sunny morning. “Obviously we were hoping for more, because we have had good growth through the years.”
Ken Kirchner, a Breeders’ Cup simulcasting consultant, said the treacherous-looking tracks made some bettors less than confident.
“I talked to a number of players that simply said they were uncertain because of the severe track conditions, and so they pulled their bets back,” he said. “And that’s not unusual at every track in the country, where you see players pull their bets back on off conditions.
“The cumulative effect of the conditions here to the people watching it on simulcast did certainly have an effect by the end of the day.”
But the weather didn’t stop on-track patrons from getting bets down. A single-day record for on-track handle at any New Jersey track was established on the opening-day Breeders’ Cup card Oct. 26, when $5,038,975 was wagered. That record didn’t last long, as $12,726,622 was wagered on-track for the Oct. 27 card.
The Oct. 27 on-track total wagered by 41,781 patrons at Monmouth was 30.3% lower than the $18,259,971 record bet by the crowd of 75,132 at Churchill Downs in 2006, but per capita spending was higher ($304 this year; $243 last year).
“Over four days, we put 80,000 people through these gates. We fed them. We kept them as dry as we could. And we gave them great races,” said Dennis Dowd, senior vice president of racing for the New Jersey Sports and Exposition Authority.
Dowd told those gathered at the media breakfast that during the four days, he only had one complaint about a mutuel line (“What racetrack manager can say that?” he asked), and only one complaint about food service.
“We threw an open bar for an hour there, and it made people very happy,” he said with a chuckle.
Having a bad-weather Breeders’ Cup resurrects opinions about holding the event only in fair-weather havens. But consulting event manager Damon Thayer said that would eliminate prime locations such as the New York tracks and Churchill Downs, among others.
Thayer also noted warm-weather sites are not exempt from trying conditions: The 1999 Breeders’ Cup at Gulfstream Park was held under constant hurricane threats, and the 2003 Breeders’ Cup at Oak Tree at Santa Anita Park was hampered by 100-degree heat and nearby wildfires that at times spread ash on the stands like a light snowfall.
“This (bad) weather is not germane only to New Jersey,” he said. “Earlier this week, we had this same weather at Keeneland.”
Preliminary wagering totals weren’t released by Breeders’ Cup officials until about three hours after Curlin won the Breeders' Cup Classic - Powered by Dodge (gr. I), but Kirchner said that delay is not unusual.
“It’s part of our verification process of the Pick-6,” he said, noting the scandal involving that exotic wager during the 2002 Breeders’ Cup at Arlington Park. “We’ve done it ever since then.”
Kirchner said officials contact each of the outlets where winning tickets are sold. This year there were six correct plays valued at $321,813 each.
“We have them verify it was a live ticket and everything was proper with the Pick-6 winning tickets," he said. “We had to chase down six different outlets. That takes a little bit of time.”
The first race chart issued following the Classic showed a different total for a winning Pick-6 ticket, but was later corrected to show the true payout.
“That shouldn’t have happened,” Kirchner said. “I am not sure how that number got out. We will have to talk to Equibase about that, because that was an error. What was paid out was absolutely correct.”
Common pool wagering on the 11 Breeders’ Cup races contested over two days totaled $125,287,556, while the figure for all 21 races was $142,700,099. Off-track handle on the Oct. 26 card was $25,331,696, while the announced crowd of 27,803 bet $5,038,975, producing an all-sources gross of $30,370,671.
“We were pleased with Friday’s totals, but we might have been conservative with our early estimates,” Kirchner said. “We were pleasantly surprised, but we had no basis of comparison.”
The attendance figure of 41,781 was the lowest recorded since 37,246 attended the 1995 Breeders’ Cup event at Belmont Park and fell well short of the all-time record of 80,452 at Churchill Downs in 1998.
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