- Didn't take long for NYRA to issue a press release on Saturday evening extolling an uptick in business on opening day at Belmont.
Buoyed by the debut of a new, 15 percent-takeout Pick 5 wager with a 50-cent minimum, on-track handle and attendance totals for Saturday's opening day of the Belmont Park Fall Meeting easily exceeded those of the 2012 Fall opener. On-track handle on Belmont races totaled $1,740,269, up 13 percent from $1,540,601 last year. Attendance today was 6,549, a 42 percent gain from 4,598 in 2012. [NYRA]Just a few days earlier, NYRA was put in the unusual position of reporting on a decline in attendance and handle at Saratoga, so I guess it was nice to have some good news to report. We won't even quibble in that a check of the charts from last year's opening day on the Equibase website shows that there were a couple of showers during the card, as opposed to the perfect weather on Saturday.
[And, did you know that you can indeed access, for free, historical charts going back to 1991, from our good friends at Equibase? I didn't, and man, I could spend a lot of time there. And it's nice to be Equibase, both the monopoly supplier of racing data to past performance providers and others, and a competitor who is able to attract web traffic by displaying unique features like historical charts that others pay it to display themselves. I imagine there are other industries out there somewhere with this type of arrangement (that haven't been sued by the Justice Department) and would guess that they're probably just as screwed up as this one.]
I don't know if I'd say that the attendance was "buoyed" by the debut of the Pick 5 - rather doubt that; but it surely provided a boost to the handle. NYRA is introducing another 15 percent-takeout bet on Thursday with the Pick 4 wager it is conducting in partnership with Penn National. Might seem like a random pairing, but obviously the handiwork of Penn Nat's Director of Racing Dan Silver, who left NYRA to take that position last year. And a nice job by the racing secretary there; two tough races to close out the Pick 4 wager and kick off their card. (Hopefully the weather will cooperate at both tracks.) Great lead-in for Penn National, and a chance to NYRA to offer another low takeout wager. You hear people complain that "NYRA has the takeout too high," but the rates for existing bets are a part of the racing and wagering law, and would have to be changed by legislators in Albany. And I don't need to elaborate any further than that. NYRA and the Racing and Wagering Board have apparently found a way around that obstacle in creating these new wagers, so nice work there.
Whatever the reason for the attendance gain on Saturday, I would hardly take it as the beginning of a trend; anymore that I take the declines at Saratoga as a portend of a downward cycle there. For now, anyway. Despite the fact that the declines came despite the remarkable weather, I find it more curious than alarming. It is possible I suppose that the fact that the meet is too long is finally catching up. But it takes more than one year to establish a trend, and I'll consider it a statistical quirk until and unless it happens again.
Though the weather will be hard to duplicate. Even when the track was sloppy and most of the grass races were washed away the last three days (causing, according to NYRA, all-sources handle to dip into negative territory), the weather was mostly pleasant on track for the races.
Jeff Scott states his case in the Saratogian against extending the meet, and does a good job presenting some facts and figures to demonstrate how the "quality of racing" has declined, at least in terms of claiming tags and the number of turf sprints, the latter apparently deemed by the writer to denote un-quality. I dunno, I thought they were pretty fun to bet and to watch, which, as I've noted here many times, is what makes for a quality day in my view. Having said that, his point that the meet has already lost a certain amount of glow as the racing has become undoubtedly cheaper is well-taken. Don't know how much it would affect on-track business though considering that most of the people hanging out in the back there wouldn't know the difference if they were running three-legged mule races up front.
- One lucky bettor pulled in $423,424 by Picking Six correctly at Belmont on Wednesday, with a more typical 2,032 on hand; the attendance obviously not buoyed by the carryover. The sequence included three first-time starters, one of them a 27-1 bombshell that led it off. Summerdale ($56) beat out Easy Living, another Clement first-timer on the grass who ran extremely well (even if this one lost as the favorite). In the 6th, My Place ($7) was a rare first-out winner for Mott. And in the 7th, Princess Adelyn ($21.80) won for Kiaran McLaughlin, second winner of the day for this barn which got so hot towards the end of Saratoga. Princess Adelyn, running in her debut for a 40K tag, is a three-year old daughter of Tale of the Cat, out of a Formal Gold mare who is a half-sister to the Derby/Preakness winner and spectacular failure at stud, Smarty Jones.