Hurricane Damage Could Impact Cup Handle

Breeders' Cup, already expecting to begin its Oct. 29 World Thoroughbred Championships day $13 million in the hole handle-wise compared with last year, could take an even bigger hit given a lack of established wagering outlets in hurricane-ravaged Florida and Louisiana.

As of the afternoon of Oct. 27, it remained to be seen whether Calder Race Course, damaged by Hurricane Wilma, would be open for the Breeders' Cup simulcast. Millions in South Florida were without power because of the storm. Track officials were making every effort to reopen Calder.

Gulfstream Park, currently being rebuilt, isn't an option for simulcasting, nor is Pompano Park, a Pompano Beach harness track that sustained hurricane damage and shut down.

On Florida's west coast, the Naples-Fort Myers Greyhound Track also took a hit from Wilma and is closed indefinitely, according to published reports. The track, the only one located in extreme southwest Florida, usually attracts about 1,500 patrons on Cup day.

Last year, all betting outlets in Florida produced $4.6 million in handle on the Breeders' Cup program. Depending on what develops, a handle hit of a few million seems possible.

"We're sort of at the mercy of whether these facilities can get up and running," said Ken Kirchner, senior vice president of product development for the National Thoroughbred Racing Association. "And you're also looking at millions of people whose lives were disrupted, and they're thinking about anything but the Breeders' Cup.

"We'll just have to wait until Saturday to see what happens."

Last year, total handle on Cup day approached $121 million. But host Lone Star Park offered a 12-race card (Belmont Park will have 10 races). The extra two races generated $6 million in handle. Also, secondary pari-mutuel operations accounted for $7 million in handle last year; those wagering outlets aren't permitted to take the New York Racing Association signal.

In Louisiana, Fair Grounds, shuttered because of damage from Hurricane Katrina, won't be open for simulcasting or live racing through at least next year, though the track's five off-track betting parlors reopened the week of Oct. 24. Delta Downs Racetrack & Casino also is closed indefinitely because of damage from Hurricane Rita.

Last year, Fair Grounds and its OTB parlors produced $660,000 in handle on Breeders' Cup day, while Delta Downs accounted for $85,000, Kirchner said.