Anne M. Eberhardt

Breeders' Cup Handle Up 5.5%

Breeders' Cup expects final handle numbers to be strong despite the economy.

By Tom LaMarra and Ryan Conley

An all-sources figure of $155,474,553 was wagered on the Breeders' Cup World Championships at Santa Anita Park, which was the second year the event was conducted over a two-day period. Handle at last year’s event at Monmouth Park, which was the first to be run over two days, was $147,381,170.

Cup officials earlier said handle appeared a bit soft, primarily because of the national economy. Most racetracks have reported handle declines in the last six months.

Last year's two-day total handle on 11 races undoubtedly was impacted by poor weather at Monmouth Park in New Jersey. This year, it was a tad warm but sunny for both days and the card grew to 14 races for the first time.

The totals include a separate pool estimate of $5 million on wagering from Hong Kong, France, United Kingdom, Mexico, and Australia, and is based on results of previous years.

Total on-track full-card handle was $18,685,080, with $6,852,096 wagered on Friday and $11,832,984 on Saturday.

Friday’s attendance was 31,257 and Saturday’s was 51,331, combining for a total of 82,588.

“It was a tremendous two days of racing with incredible performances both days," Breeders' Cup president and CEO Greg Avioli said after the last of nine Breeders' Cup races were run Oct. 25. "We had 80,000-plus fans here over the two days, and everything went smoothly in the operation — a testament to our hosts, the Oak Tree Racing Association.The Europeans cast down the gauntlet today by winning five races, and our industry is going to have come back next year with a lot good horses if we’re to take back the Breeders’ Cup."

The winning Europeans were Muhannak in the $500,000 Breeders' Cup Marathon, Goldikova in the $2-million Breeders' Cup Mile (gr. IT), Donativum in the $1-million Grey Goose Breeders' Cup Juvenile (gr. I), Conduit in the $3-million Emirates Airline Breeders' Cup Turf, and Raven's Pass in the $5-million Breeders' Cup Classic.

It also was a big day for California-based horses, who won the other four races. Desert Code won the $1-million Breeders' Cup Turf Sprint, Albertus Maximus won the $1-million Breeders' Cup Dirt Mile (held on the synthetic Pro-Ride surface), Midshipman took the $2-million Bessemer Trust Breeders' Cup Juvenile (gr. I), and Midnight Lute — for the second year in a row — won the $2-million Sentient Flight Group Breeders' Cup Sprint (gr. I).

There was grumbling from patrons about the higher ticket prices for seats. Avioli said the situation will be addressed for next year's Cup, which will return to Santa Anita.

"We don’t always do all things right, but we keep trying," Avioli said. "Our high-end tickets went really fast, but those for $150 to $200 came up a bit high, perhaps.”

In the handle department, Avioli said the Breeders’ Cup had decided, in the difficult economic times might do well to match the 2007 handle of about $147 million, but at last accounting it appeared the handle could hit about $155 million.

This year's World Championships was the first held on a synthetic surface. Avioli gave the Pro-Ride track high marks. “Dirt tracks will continue to be around for a long time, both as a function of tradition and economics, but synthetic surfaces will continue to be important.”