Michael Burns

Woodbine Increases its Handle Again in 2010

Canada track announced an increase in betting handle for the second straight year.

For the second consecutive year, Woodbine Entertainment Group announced a sharp increase in betting handle on its live Thoroughbred racing season.

According to track figures, the 167-day meet, which concluded Dec. 5, saw an "all-sources" total of $393,507,233 wagered, a 8.9% overall rise from the $361,435,208 figure recorded from the 167 dates offered last year.

It comes after a 7.0% hike in handle seen in 2009 over 2008.

"We are pleased with the sustained gains in handle," said Sean Pinsonneault, WEG's chief operating officer, in a release. "To see a seven% rise in 2009 and an 8.9% jump this year against the softness in the betting marketplace is significant."

Similar to last year's gains, much of the $32 million-plus increase in betting came from U.S. sources.

"Customers have responded very well to the strong fundamentals of Woodbine's racing, guaranteed pools, and expanded distribution," Pinsonneault said. "This positive momentum has also resulted in record setting handles in our key stakes events."

The Queen's Plate, Woodbine's signature race, was graced with the presence of Queen Elizabeth II for its 151st running in 2010. The $6,815,673 handle number recorded for the card was a record. The Woodbine Mile ($5,619,808) and Pattison Canadian International (Can-I, $6,322,804) cards also shattered handle marks.

While the average field size at the 167-day Woodbine race meet was down to 8.7 horses per race from the 9.1 figure recorded in 2009, it still remained one of the highest in North America.

Overnight and stakes purses, including supplements and nominations fees, paid out in 2010 totaled $86.9 million, with $520,896 per card.

"Our strong purse structure and facilities have contributed to Woodbine's ability to attract North America's best horses and trainers, which in turn gives us a unique profile among racing's core fans," Pinsonneault said.

The 2011 Woodbine Thoroughbred season is scheduled for 167 dates, beginning Saturday, April 2.

Standardbred racing continues at Woodbine through the winter, including a special Boxing Day card that features a 1:20 p.m. post-time.

In terms of end-of-the-meet trainer, jockey, owner, and horse standings, trainer Mark Casse fell short in his chase of a 15-year-old record, but managed his fourth straight Woodbine training title as the track's eight-month live Thoroughbred season came to a close.

Casse was three wins away from tying the mark of most wins in single season by a trainer at Woodbine (set by the late Frank Passero in 1995 with 89 wins) heading into the final card, but managed a sole tally to finish with 87 on the campaign. Reade Baker was second this year with 66 wins, while Sid Attard was third with 46.

Jockey Eurico Rosa da Silva collected his first Woodbine riding championship with 190 scores, 18 ahead of nearest rival, Patrick Husbands (172). Chantal Sutherland was third with 136 wins, including a colony-leading 18 stakes victories.

Sam-Son Farm topped Woodbine's owner standings with purse earnings of $2,563,412. Bear Stables was second with $1,883,987 and had the most wins with 39. Melnyk Racing Stables was third with $1,789,573.

The winner of this year's Pattison Canadian International, Joshua Tree, led all horses at the meet with $1.2 million in earnings.

da Silva guided Terra Racing Stables' Big Red Mike to a wire-to-wire victory in the Queen's Plate over Hotep and Roan Inish, who won the Woodbine Oaks, presented by Budweiser.

In the other major stakes events, Court Vision  won the Woodbine Mile, and Miami Deco won the Breeders' Stakes, third jewel in the Canadian Triple Crown Series, paying the biggest price ($132.10) in the race's Triple Crown history.