Preakness Handle Suffers Heavy Decline

Preakness Handle Suffers Heavy Decline
Photo: Anne M. Eberhardt
Preakness handle dropped substantially lower from the 2007 totals.

After four straight years of handle topping $87 million, wagering on the Preakness program declined 15.8% in a year-over-year comparison with the 2007 card.

All-sources handle, not including separate-pool wagering, was $73,457,510 for the 13-race card, according to data released by the Maryland Jockey Club, down from the $87,194,161 last year, and 19.3% lower than the record $91,028,704 in 2005.

An official with Magna Entertainment Corp., the owner of Pimlico Race Course, said officials were still trying May 19 to analyze a puzzling drop in handle despite the presence of – or because of – 1-5 betting favorite and Kentucky Derby Presented by Yum! Brands (gr. I) winner Big Brown.

“This race was not a great betting race,” said Scott Borgemenke, executive vice president of racing for MEC. “Personally, I took Big Brown out of it in my own betting, and invested a toothpick to try and win a lumber yard."

“I don’t think the Eight Belles situation had anything to do with it,” Borgemenke said, referencing the negative fallout from the catastrophic run by the filly as runner-up in the Derby. “I really don’t know what to make of it all right now. I think we had some scratches that made some of the earlier races not so attractive.”

Borgemenke feared how things could have turned if a smaller field had lined up against Big Brown. “It could have been worse,” he said. “The way things were looking at first, I thought we were going to get a six- or seven-horse field. But 12 horses was a nice field, even with the lack of horses that came from the Derby.”

Total handle on the Preakness itself this year was $45,689,452, down 20.3% from last year’s race in which Curlin turned the tables on respective 2007 Derby winner and runner-up Street Sense and Hard Spun. Only Gayego, who finished 17th to Big Brown in the Derby, followed the winner from Churchill Downs to Pimlico.

Unlike the Derby, where the barring of the Churchill Downs signal to several advance deposit wagering companies and Calder Race Course likely factored into a 2% decline in handle, the Preakness program was available to virtually all the betting outlets that handled the event last year. An exception was Youbet.com, which handled more than $2.1 million on the 2007 Preakness but was shut out this year.

On-track handle was $6,267,602, down 7.7% from 2007, when $6,792,342 was wagered. Export handle was down 16% to $64,052,413.

Weather certainly was not an issue as the 112,222 people that jammed the Baltimore-area track enjoyed warm, sunny conditions. And despite sweeping cutbacks at Maryland tracks in the last several months, purses and small field sizes couldn’t be blamed either, as the $2,082,250 offered to horsemen was actually 3.2% higher the record handle year of 2005. The field size of eight horses per race was in line with the last several years, and only 6.3% less than the 8.54 average of 2005.

The attendance figure was the fifth-highest in Preakness history, and the eighth straight above 100,000, but was down 7.5% from the 121,263 tallied last year. Borgemenke estimated the infield crowd, which historically bets less than other attendees, was up about 3,000 people from last year.

Total handle for the rainy May 16 Black-Eyed Susan Stakes (gr. I) also declined from 2007, falling 14.5% to $9,126,217, according to data compiled by The Jockey Club Information Systems. The total was also off 34.7% from the $13,973,748 wagered in 2006.

NBC’s Preakness coverage delivered an overnight national rating of 5.1 and a 12 share for the 5 p.m. to 6:45 p.m. period, down 6% from the 5.4/13 realized last year. The Preakness itself posted a 6.2/14, down 3% from the 6.4/15 from a year.

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