I've got some good news and bad about the business of winter racing in Florida and California. Do you want the good news or bad news first?
I thought so.
Wagering for the first seven days of the Santa Anita Park winter meet has been abysmal in comparison to 2009-10. After seven days, average daily handle is down 18.0%, with out-of-state wagering showing a 21.9% drop in comparison to the first seven days of last year's meeting.
There are some caveats: the 2009-10 meeting's first seven days included four weekend programs, compared to three this season, when opening day fell on a Sunday (last year's opening was a Saturday). There's been one fewer race this meeting and 18 fewer starters compared with the 2009-10 meeting's first seven days. Average field size is down slightly, from 8.13 to 7.96 horses. And then there was that big snowstorm that hit the northeast on Dec. 26.
Also, keep in mind that the closing of New York City OTB has an impact on more than just the New York Racing Association. Major simulcast exporters are feeling the effects of the closing, too.
On the flip side, last year's Santa Anita meeting began with an impasse with the Mid-Atlantic Co-Op, shutting out one of the largest simulcast markets in the country. This year, Mid-Atlantic Co-Op customers were able to bet on Santa Anita from day one.
The only Santa Anita numbers reflecting an increase are track records and horse ambulance runs. From day one, when track records were established for both six furlongs and seven furlongs on the main track, Santa Anita's new dirt surface has been playing extremely fast, and many horseplayers have detected what they believe is an inside speed bias.
Unfortunately, there has been one breakdown and six other horses pulled up and vanned off after racing on the new dirt track at Santa Anita. Last year, through seven days, not a single horse was vanned off or eased. It's early, and horsemen are not complaining, but those are not good numbers.
Now for the good news.
Wagering on Tampa Bay is up during the same period that Santa Anita is down, even with two fewer races run. On Dec. 29 – and I have to assume this is the first-time it's ever happened – Tampa Bay actually out-handled Santa Anita Park. And from Dec. 26, the day Santa Anita opened, through Jan. 2, Tampa Bay has outpaced Santa Anita in daily average out-of-state simulcast handle by a significant margin.
In 2009-10, for the comparative dates, Santa Anita's out-of-state handle was $900,000 higher per day than Tampa Bay's. In 2010-11, however, Tampa Bay has an edge over Santa Anita of nearly $500,000 per day in out of state wagering (which includes ADW). That's a huge swing.
Tampa Bay Downs, which opened Dec. 11, is in a much smaller market than Santa Anita, and its on-track business is minuscule by comparison. But larger fields (9.77 for Tampa compared to 7.96 for Santa Anita), coverage on both TVG and HRTV (Santa Anita Park is not on TVG, which goes into many more households than HRTV), and greater access this year to — of all places — California's simulcast facilities (and more exposure in the West Coast edition of Daily Racing Form) has led to the spike in out-of-state wagering.
Left unsaid is how much the Jan. 1 increase in takeout on exotic bets and the associated negative buzz has hurt Santa Anita, which is being portrayed by many horseplayers and commentators as the devil. Conversely, online forums, happy talk on TVG, and positive buzz about Tampa's decreasing takeout rates have put a halo over the Oldsmar, Fla., racetrack.
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