* negative publicity about the New York Racing Association, which operates host site Belmont Park;
* rebate shops that handled $7 million in 2004 cut off from simulcasting the Breeders' Cup by the New York State Racing and Wagering Board; and
* there were no "star" horses known to the general public. Given those circumstances, 6% growth is exceptional and represents the second-highest increase in percentage in the last six years. It was the first time in the four years Belmont Park has hosted the event that handle increased from the previous year. It declined 3% in 2001, 18% in 1995, and less than 1% in 1990. Since 1997, when the National Thoroughbred Racing Association was formed, Breeders' Cup handle has increased 60%, or nearly 8% per year. That certainly puts Van Clief's growth target of 9% within reach. One of the keys will be international wagering, which at $11,129,292 represented 9% of the total in 2005. A new law permitting foreigners to bet into pari-mutuel pools in the United States should ensure steady growth, especially if bookmakers in the United Kingdom increase their participation. Currently, the UK betting shops book all Breeders' Cup wagering in advance of the event and tap into the pari-mutuel pools only during the evening hours when the races are actually being run. That's a small percentage of the UK's overall betting pool on the Cup races. In other words, bookmakers in England and Ireland take a substantial number of advance wagers on the World Thoroughbred Championships and return zero to the Breeders' Cup. The same can be said for Betfair and other betting exchanges, which one Breeders' Cup official estimated handled in excess of $25 million on this year's event and paid nary a cent for the privilege.
There are ways beyond the international markets to increase wagering. First of all, for the estimated two million home viewers this year, there was limited betting information given during the NBC telecast, and not a hint that it is actually legal in many states to wager from the comfort of your home via telephone or computer. Perhaps the switch from NBC to ESPN for the 2006 Breeders' Cup provides a greater opportunity to emphasize wagering. After all, doesn't ESPN stand for the Entertainment, Sports, and Poker Network?
ANOTHER ABSURDITY Breeder Rob Whiteley writes in this week's Final Turn about some of the absurdities he's come across. One he omitted is the incredible foul-up at Hollywood Park that leaves horsemen without a grass course for the Inglewood track's fall-winter meeting. They couldn't grow grass in California? Whether you blame it on the former management of Churchill Downs or the new management of the Bay Meadows Land Co. doesn't really matter. The victims are the owners who have invested heavily in horses that put on the show, not to mention the fans who will get an inferior product. Both deserved better.