by Greg Reinhart, HANA member
Located in Louisville, Ky., is Churchill Downs, one of the most iconic and well-known sporting venues in the world, and it took the fifth spot on HANA’s rankings of the 65 racetracks in North America. Capped by the famous twin spires on top of the grandstands, Churchill Downs is home to the Kentucky Derby (gr. I), the most prestigious race for 3-year olds in North America, and the first jewel in the Triple Crown, along with other major grade-I events like the Kentucky Oaks, the Stephen Foster Handicap, the Humana Distaff, and the Woodford Reserve Turf Classic Stakes.
Racing at Churchill, which is contested over a one-mile conventional dirt oval and a seven-furlong turf course is divided into a spring/summer meet, which runs from April through July, and a fall meet, which is run in October and November.
Churchill received a high takeout grade of "B" from HANA. Win, place, and show takeout is 16%, which compared very favorably to the other tracks, and their 19% takeout on trifectas and superfectas was tied for the lowest among the surveyed tracks. The remainder of the wagers offered (daily double, quinella, exacta, pick-3, pick-4, and pick-6) also checked in at 19%, which was lower than most of the other tracks.
"There is a great deal of competition in our industry’s marketplace, and Churchill Downs recognizes the value of providing horseplayers with attractive options such as large fields and inexpensive wagers," Chuchill’s general manager Jim Gates said. "Takeout rate has always been one of the most important factors we consider, and we take great pride in having takeout rates that are among the lowest in the nation – 16% for win, place and show wagers, and 19% for all exotics. This gives our customers more value for their money and, we believe, adds to the enjoyment of their experience with Churchill Downs."
Another great feature for bettors at Churchill is the variety of wagers offered. They have a 10-cent superfecta; a "Super Hi-5," which in the fall meet could carry-over to a later race at Calder if it wasn’t hit at Churchill; and, the "Over-Under" wager. Then there is the "Matrix" wager, which the Churchill Web site describes as a "15-bet ‘value-pack’ that bundles together all the possible win, exacta and trifecta plays on three (3) horses into one convenient ticket priced well below what it would cost you to make all those bets separately."
"Innovation is very important to us, and we’ve debuted several new wagers in recent meets to appeal to a broad range of customers, including the Over-Under wager, the Matrix, and the Super Hi-5," Gates said. "We also introduced the Z-5 (Super Hi-5) wager for our 2008 Fall Meet, which featured the first interstate jackpot carryover pool for players nationwide.
"We’ve received excellent feedback from our customers on these wagers, and their comments allowed us to figure out what works, what doesn’t, and offer our horseplayers more of what they want to see," he continued. "We’re always interested in new wagers for our customers, including bets along the lines of the dime superfectas, and we have several ideas currently in development. We’ll share the details when we’re ready to announce those wagers publicly."
Churchill is also connected with the advance deposit wagering entity Twinspires.com, which is operated by Churchill Downs Inc. That makes accessibility to live streaming video very easy for account holders, and they also broadcast all their races on Horse Racing Television (HRTV). During the fall meet, Churchill also introduced high-definition to their simulcast feed.
"We’ve done extensive research with our customers to determine what aspects of the racing experience are most important to them, and we’ve tried to deliver on every front, from takeout rates and the quality of our racing product to customer service and the upkeep and modernization of our facility," Gates said. "It’s very important to us to keep these types of services at the forefront of what we offer, to ensure customers have an enjoyable and entertaining experience while visiting Churchill Downs.
"We’ve invested considerable capital into our simulcast signal to provide the latest technology and information for those customers enjoying our product from their favorite off-track betting facility or watching us live online through Twinspires.com. We offer a wealth of wagering information through the signal, and our recent upgrade to high definition in fall 2008 has helped to draw in new horseplayers and offer them the next-best thing to being here."
Churchill does not get a subsidy from slots as Kentucky does not have them, so officials at the track have come up with some nice rewards programs and amenities to draw people to Churchill and hopefully to get them to come back.
"Churchill Downs has offered the Twin Spires Club player rewards program since 1995, which allows customers to earn points for their wagers and redeem those points for great prizes and privileges, including electronics, sporting goods, vacations and much more," Gates said. "We also offer VIP rooms at Churchill Downs for our platinum- and gold-level players, and a new Champions Lounge at the track for those at the silver and bronze level. And, of course, all Churchill Downs racetrack guests benefit from our first-class customer service and beautiful renovated facilities."
The great takeout rates, especially on trifectas and superfectas, the variety of available wagers, the accessibility to the signal and the strong rewards/benefits offered all added up to an overall grade of "B-" for Churchill Downs and the fifth spot in HANA’s rankings.
(Editor’s note: The views and rating system are expressly those of the bettors’ advocacy group Horseplayers Association of North America (HANA), and not affiliated with Blood-Horse Publications.)