by | 11.17.2010 | 12:46am
By Ray Paulick

Under normal circumstances, handle on the 2008 Breeders' Cup World Championships would blow past all previous betting records. But the economic crisis gripping the United States and many other countries is anything but normal.

This year's World Championships take place over two days at Santa Anita Park Oct. 24-25 and includes 14 Breeders' Cup races, up from the 11 held at Monmouth Park in 2007 when the event was first expanded to two days.  Last year's two-day handle was a Breeders' Cup record $147 million ($31.5 million on the Friday card and $115.7 million on Saturday), but the total was below expectations by at least 10% because of the extremely wet weather conditions. The previous all-sources wagering record was set in 2006 when $140.3 million was wagered on eight Breeders' Cup races on a single day at Churchill Downs.

Ken Kirchner, the president of FalKirk International and the longtime wagering consultant to the Breeders' Cup, wouldn't make any predictions about this year's handle. “It's hard to say where the economy is going to be in 10 days,” Kirchner told the Paulick Report. “Everybody has been down between 10% and 20% in wagering all summer and fall. Things can change quickly, but certainly the trend isn't good.”

Kirchner hopes some fans have been stockpiling a bankroll for the big event. “It's not a positive situation,” he said, “but we're going to have very strong and full fields and some people may just be waiting for this as opposed to betting the run-of-the-mill races.”

Holding the Breeders' Cup's traditional dirt races on a synthetic surface doesn't bother Kirchner. “The new (Pro-Ride) track seems to be playing fair,” he said. “If the horses show up, the bettors will follow.

Kirchner did say scheduling the Breeders' Cup on the last weekend of the month is a disadvantage because of consumer spending habits. “Having it at the beginning of the month (when Social Security and other fixed income checks arrive) makes it 3% to 5% stronger,” he said.

The Breeders' Cup had the first $100-million wagering day in North American racing history Nov. 6, 1999, at Gulfstream Park. That was the year the Filly & Mare Turf was added, making it an eight-race championship.

By comparison, Kentucky Derby day betting topped $100 million for the first time in 2000, and it's grown significantly since. Churchill Downs now holds the North American record of $175 million established on the 2006 Kentucky Derby program. Add wagering from Friday's Kentucky Oaks program ($33 million in 2006), and the total tops $208 million.

It's clear the Breeders' Cup braintrust is trying to emulate the success of the Friday Oaks/Saturday Derby format at Churchill Downs by bundling all of the filly and mare races on this year's Friday program (and by requiring fans to purchase seats for both days as Churchill Downs has done with the Oaks and Derby). The Breeders' Cup doesn't have the cachet of the Kentucky Derby (or the Oaks for that matter), though that doesn't mean the new format will not work.

With the additional Breeders' Cup races, better weather and a more traditional big race venue (Santa Anita vs. Monmouth Park), handle will increase this year. My prediction is for $175 million in wagers over the two championship days. Without all the economic uncertainty, $200 million would seem realistic.

SPEAKING OF BETTING, REMEMBER THAT JUNE 28 RACE AT PHILADELPHIA PARK when wagers were allowed at some Florida simulcast sites after the race had been run? The Thoroughbred Racing Protective Bureau issued a report and sent it to the tracks involved – Philadelphia Park and Tampa Bay Downs – but according to Peter Berube, Tampa Bay's vice president and general manager, he still doesn't understand exactly how the Philly Park past-post bets occurred.

“I have the report,” Berube told the Paulick Report last week. “It's highly technical but draws no conclusions and places no blame on anybody. Apparently it was a sequence of events that took place between the tote companies.”

Scientific Games (formerly Autotote), which handles wagers for Philadelphia Park, was experiencing technical problems with its system that day at races from Philly and Delaware Park. Tampa Bay Downs and 11 other North Florida wagering sites (dog tracks and jai-alai frontons) use AmTote. A communications breakdown between the systems failed to send a stop-bet signal to AmTote.

Joe Wilson, chief operating officer of Philadelphia Park, did not return phone calls seeking a comment.

According to Berube, the past-post wagering was limited to his track, with most of the past-post bets placed by one customer, who is known as a big bettor at Tampa Bay. “What's in the report would lead me to believe that there was no abnormal spike in bets overall,” Berube said. “We were the 14th ranked site in terms of total bets (on the fourth race, the race in question), but first in cashes. We were the only site that had a negative settlement (with more winnings that money wagered).”

Berube said he interviewed the horseplayer who allegedly made the past-post wagers but allowed him to collect on his winning bets. “We brought people in and spoke with them but after Philadelphia Park priced the race I couldn't tell them to give us the money back.

“I've been here 15 years and have never experienced anything like this before,” said Berube, whose father, Paul Berube, is the former head of the TRPB.

Copyright © 2008, The Paulick Report

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