Breeders Cup a winner, but small bettors still lose

Nov 7, 2017 3:00 AM

Although the two-day wagering totals at Del Mar for this past weekend’s Breeders’ Cup Friday and Saturday were the event’s most robust in several years, even a record depending how you look at the numbers, the horse racing world championships always bring upon smaller players, such as myself, a feeling of sadness.

I’ll explain shortly.

My GamingToday colleague Jon Lindo has provided some of the nuts and bolts of being at the event in person elsewhere in this publication (see p3). The horse he owns in partnership, Skye Diamonds, was a credible fourth in her event and the group has decided to keep the stout mare in training rather than send her to Kentucky to be sold as a broodmare prospect, he says.

The two-day, on-track wagering total of $25,181,317 is the highest for the event, which expanded from one day to two in 2007, and a 21.4% increase over the two-day total of $20,742,847 in 2016. Joe Harper, Del Mar’s head man, told the Daily Racing Form a notable aspect of the weekend was Friday’s on-track handle of $9.28 million, a 29 percent increase over the corresponding day at Santa Anita, last year’s home for the event.

“I was surprised with the (Friday) handle,” Harper said. “I didn’t think it would do that well.”

The problem, at least for some, with the aftermath of both the Kentucky Derby and the Breeders’ Cup is the feeling both hallmark events generate among the smaller players.

Each of the two events now are pulling in several directions at once. Prices for parking, admission and refreshment are exorbitant. The truth is the little guy would rather use that money to wager at a simulcast outlet than spend it at the track. This is a factor in the popularity of Nevada’s racebooks. Why bother to go to a Southern California track when you can get a lot more bang for your buck locally? Del Mar, intending to or not, sends a message to smaller players through its high prices, that you are not really welcome.

This is especially apparent on Fridays at Del Mar during the summer when the races are followed by concerts. Toward the end of the race day the plant fills up with concert goers and the horseracing fans are shunted to the side.

A second factor related to the feeling of disenfranchisement is the television broadcasts. NBC and NBCSN, the two outlets for general home viewing, always gear the broadcast to an audience unfamiliar with the sport. There’s a constant parade of celebrities (you can decide if they are A list or B list) on display in an effort to attract a new audience.

However, their participation, usually for publicity purposes only, detracts from those who really follow the sport. I may get physically ill if I have to see ice skaters Tara Lupinki and Johnny Weir on next year’s Kentucky Derby telecast. If you don’t know who they are, you are fortunate.

Many fans will make their wagers at a simulcast outlet and then head for home to watch the results. Sadly, TVG, the channel most are able to watch, is geared toward promoting its own wagering platform rather than really covering the action. Hyping its own wagering platform is job one.

Again, the little guy loses out.

There’s no easy answer to horseracing problems. The sport’s stakeholders, the horsemen, the owners, the breeders, the track operators and the gamblers all focus on their own self interest to the detriment of the overall welfare of the game. Establishment of a racing czar, a commissioner who would oversee the sport, is an idea often floated by participants.

However, because horseracing is, in truth, a regional sport that comes together a few times a year rather than a national sport, such a plan is really not workable. Horseracing has never really been able to come together for the common good, whatever that is, and thus remains a second-class citizen in the sports world.

It’s the sad reality of the matter and the little guys, like myself, will have to learn to live with it.

As a racebook supervisor told me a few weeks ago when I asked about the high takeout for a Pick Four wager involving Belmont and Keeneland, “If you don’t like it, don’t bet.”

Truer words were never spoken.