Major Stakes+Promotion=Bigger Crowds

A day highlighted by such major races as the Whitney and Haskell Handicaps, coupled with a $1-million voucher promotion and the second annual Claiming Crown, resulted in larger crowds at most U.S. tracks on Sunday, according to the National Thoroughbred Racing Association.

The NTRA, which sponsored the "Mystery Mutuel Voucher" promotion, said attendance increases ranged from 22 percent at Canterbury, which hosted the Claiming Crown, to 524 percent at Mountaineer Park. (The Canterbury figure is compared with Claiming Crown day of 1999). Among other tracks, Ellis Park had a 100 percent increase in attendance over the Whitney day card in 1999, the crowd at Sam Houston Race Park was up 112 percent, and Aqueduct had a 134 percent rise. The same tracks also reported large increases in betting Sunday.

At Saratoga, where a Saturday T-shirt giveaway was followed by Sunday's Whitney and the NTRA promotion, weekend attendance was a record 109,252, up 17.4 percent over the previous record set on the third weekend of the 1999 meet.

"The attendance and handle increases we saw on Sunday demonstrate what can be achieved when we work together to promote our big days," said NTRA commissioner Tim Smith. "A combination of great racing and a national promotion helped bring fans to the track, despite inclement weather in some areas."

The NTRA reported 32 racetracks and off-track betting centers participated in the voucher promotion, which featured a $1-million, insured mutuel voucher and an additional $2.7 million in additional prizes put up by the participating sites. No one cashed the $1-million ticket.

In addition to the live attendance increases, the television audience for the Fox television telecast of the Whitney saw a 55 percent increase in the overnight ratings, with a 1.7 rating a 4 market share. Those figures placed the horse racing audience second only behind CBS' coverage of the International Golf Tournament and ahead of the WNBA and Major League Soccer programming on at the same time.