By Ray Paulick
The Paulick Report was among a number of media outlets that received the following message Monday morning after the opening weekends of racing at Saratoga and Del Mar, and the continuation of what can only be termed a successful “less is more” meeting at Monmouth Park.
The email, with the subject line “Top Three Tracks Outperform Top Three Films,” read:
The problem is perception.
Variety weekly tells the world how great their product is.
When are we going to start? How about NOW!
Weekend Estimate July 23, 2010-July 25, 2010. Market data provided by Rentrak.
1. Inception: $43,505,000
2. Salt: $36,500,000
3. Despicable Me: $24,120,000
Weekend Handle July 23, 2010-July 25, 2010. Market data provided by Equibase.
1. Saratoga: $43,430,861
2. Del Mar: $38,805,417
3. Monmouth Park: $24,130,504
A day earlier, the same person wrote to the same media outlets:
Ladies and Gentlemen.
Let me tell you about the current status of horse racing. The death of horse racing has been greatly exaggerated. The buzz these three tracks (Saratoga, Del Mar, and Monmouth Park) are creating is sensational. All I can say is WOW!
Remember these words:
GREAT RACING WILL THRIVE
GOOD RACING WILL SURVIVE
BAD RACING WILL DISAPPEAR
I replied, thanking him for his uplifting message, to which he responded:
“Ray, I will tell you this with great sincerity. The combination of great racing and the Internet will bring our finest hour. Like a fine wine, it takes time. The problem is too many people think they can show racing with short fields and short payoffs (the racing version of AA baseball) on TV and think people will watch and bet. This isn't the 1970s; there is way too much competition for the gambling dollar to roll out an uncompetitive product and think the betting public will support it. If you can't give them quality racing, at least give them competitive full fields which can generate a good payoff. Obviously the major league segment of our sport which was on display this weekend is what the public craves.
“Higher purses, less racing and bigger fields is a good start for the future.”
The writer, who works in the racing industry, told me in a follow-up email he wishes to remain anonymous, but he added some additional thoughts about the current state of the business.
“I track handle at most tracks and follow (Thoroughbred and Standardbred racing) to see where the trends are,” he wrote. “Just like any business, popular products trend up and unpopular products trend down. Many racing insiders simply do not pay attention to the crucial information that is on a chart every day. It tells you what your customers liked and what they hated.
“I have followed thoroughbred racing for 40 years,” he continued. “I have been coming to the races since the early 70's. I saw Secretariat at Arlington in 1973 and Forego win the Marlboro Cup carrying 137 pounds. We were front-page news then but we missed taking advantage of TV and that decision cost us a generation of fans.
“We can now watch and bet a race on track, online and on the phone. Millions of young people can now be turned on to racing. Tens of thousands of young people all over the country in bars and restaurants screaming for Zenyatta to win her 17th in a row on TVG can't be a bad thing when the alternative for three decades was not to see it at all. Hopefully we should be able to take full advantage of the Internet…and turn this thing around. A positive spin going into the Haskell, the (Arlington) Million and the Travers could give Thoroughbred racing a lot of momentum.”
So with that positive message in mind, let me review the opening week of racing at Del Mar, which I've had the good fortune to attend.
On-track, beginning with an all-time Del Mar record crowd of 45,309 on the July 21 opener, there have been 115,875 people through the turnstiles for five racing days, a daily average of 23,175.
Over those five days, combined handle through on- and off-track locations and via advance deposit wagering systems was $59,315,891, a daily average of $11,863,178. That's an average per race (there were 45 races) of $1,318,131.
Those are very healthy numbers, indeed. Yes, the anonymous letter writer was correct: The death of horse racing—especially in California—has been greatly exaggerated.
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