By Alex Campbell
Citing uncertainty due to the scheduled end of its slots-at-racetracks program in March 2013, Woodbine has submitted a request to the Ontario Racing Commission to cancel 11 Thoroughbred Thursday afternoon racing cards from Sept. 13 to Nov. 29.
The ORC now is seeking input from horsemen on the request, and horsemen will have until Sept. 4 to submit comments or concerns.
"This request for variance primarily is driven by WEG Thoroughbred purse account status," Woodbine vice president of racing Steve Koch said in a letter to the ORC. "Current forecasts indicate a year-end closing balance of $3.4 million overpaid.
"Entering 2012 WEG had comfort that this overpayment status would erode with future improving business conditions. Since then, the cancellation of the slots-at-racetracks program has brought substantial uncertainty to our industry."
The cancellation of 11 programs would result in 88 fewer overnight races by the end of the meet. By eliminating 11 race dates, Woodbine expects to save $3 million, which will reduce the purse overpayment to $400,000.
Woodbine has targeted Thursday cards for the cutback because they generate the lowest per-race pools of Woodbine's wagering menu. Thursday per-race pools have averaged $264,000 so far in 2012, while Friday cards attract $307,000 and the weekends typically bring in $345,000 per-race.
Woodbine also runs Wednesday night cards throughout the meet, and though the cards generate the same amount of wagering activity as Thursday, the track believes the race dates present better product exposure and business opportunities.
Koch also noted that four-day race weeks have featured larger fields and more wagering. Through the first 21 weeks of the Woodbine meet, there have been nine four-day race weeks, which have seen average field size of 8.56 starters per race. There have been eight five-day race weeks, which have seen average field size of 8.17 starters per race.
With the Fort Erie meet set to close at the end of October, Woodbine is hopeful an increased horse supply will help bolster field size in lower-end claiming races through the end of the meet.
Woodbine has chosen to request the cancellation in dates as opposed to cutting overnight purses, but it may be forced to cut purses if the ORC does not approve the request.
"As an alternative, overnight purse cuts are the less desirable solution," Koch said. "To reduce the forecasted $3.4 million overpayment to zero by year end would require an about 15% cut in overnight purses beginning in early September."
The Implementation and Monitoring Group of the Ontario Racing Program will send its recommendation to the director of the ORC shortly after the Sept. 4 feedback deadline.