Churchill Downs may have nailed the sweet spot.
Racing establishments love to pack their Saturday cards, hoping to retain a daylong betting interest for the gamblers who follow them at the tracks or with nationwide access via TVG.
There are a couple of different approaches.
One calls for spacing some major headliners throughout the card, bolstering the average races that fall in between them.
Then there is the Churchill model, which can be seen Saturday: Make every event so strong that bettors will want it all. The cutoff seems to be six figures.
We’ll examine Churchill’s excellent card, talk with New Jersey officials about national developments in the business and feature our weekly Bombs Away, Salute to Long Shots segment.
Churchill nails it
Churchill Downs represents the new model of a loaded card.
This one is a bettor’s delight. Every race on the card, the first of which starts at 12:45 p.m. EDT, is for $100,000 or more. This purse level may be the perfect formula to keep gamblers interested, race upon race.
The purse is large enough in each race to entice owners and trainers to place their horses there for an ample reward. Because the fields are large, they provide multiple betting entries for the patrons.
Translation: prices. Gamblers can find an angle on just about any horse they like in this type of setup.
Here it is:
- Race 1: $120,000
- Race 2: $148,000
- Races 3 and 4: $120,000
- Race 5: $127,000
All competitive. All with good value. Each of them could be a headliner at a smaller track.
And that’s only the appetizer.
The main course starts with the $200,000 Tepin Stakes in Race 6.
The American Derby, for $200, 000 follows in Race 7.
Race 8 bumps ups the scale to the $350,000 Fleur de Lis.
Race 9 is the $160,000 Kelly’s Landing Overnight Stakes.
Race 10 is the race of the day, the $750,000 Stephen Foster Stakes.
Mandaloun, the 2021 Kentucky Derby winner, was installed as the opening 2-1 favorite. American Revolution was listed second at 7-2. Caddo River, who was on the Derby circuit with Mandaloun last year, is a healthy 10-1. Nice name value, high-level interest.
Race 11 is for $134,000.
Race 12 closes the card at $127,000.
This is an excellent presentation, top to bottom, one of the best that does not occur on a major race day like the Kentucky Derby, Preakness, and Belmont Stakes.
The track is making the most of its purse money, spreading it evenly over several races on the card rather than spending a couple of million dollars on one event and a few thousand on the next.
This is the all-star type of card bettors like.
Highlights from other tracks
Race 8 is the $250,000 Dwyer Stakes with a field of six. Race 10 is a turf allowance for $92,000. It has a field of 12 and looms as Bonanza Bait, a good-looking payday if bettors can find the key.
Big purses, small fields — the $300,000 Princess Rooney Invitational in Race 10 and the $100,000 Smile Sprint in Race 7. Both have small fields of six.
Price Potential — Race 9 has a field of 10 for a bottom-of-the-barrel level of $6,250.
The finale, Race 12, is maiden-claiming, $12,500. It has a field of 12. Horses who have never won in a big field? Some long-shot bettors will lick their chops.
The $100,000 Regret is Race 5, with a field of seven. Race 9 has a field of 10 for a turf allowance race. Race 11 has a field of 10 for a turf maiden special weights event.
Race 7, turf allowance; field of nine. Race 8, the $100,000 Caesars Wish; field of eight. Race 9, the $100,000 Concern; field of six.
New national regulations coming
The Horse Racing Safety and Integrity Act was supposed to take effect July 1 and now may not be enforced before Aug. 1. Nonetheless, it will be administered by the Horse Racing Integrity and Safety Authority (HISA) and has two main components designed to create uniform national standards.
The safety component kicks in first and covers the gamut for jockey safety (including a national concussion protocol), the riding crop and how often riders can use it during a race, racetrack accreditation and reporting of training and veterinary records. Everyone in horse racing had to register with the new safety agency by the end of June.
Anti-doping measures, which incur a cost, go into effect Jan. 1, 2023. They figure to be more costly for the industry.
While most industry participants hail the intent of the law and its emphasis on horse-racing safety and prevention of illegal drugs being given to horses, the bill has a major loose end: funding.
Money for the rapid infrastructure growth, particularly drug testing, is not part of the bill. Tracks may have to fend for themselves, and it could boil down to two camps.
“The larger tracks may be able to absorb the costs, while the smaller facilities will feel a strain and may be driven out of the business,” Dennis Drazin, the head of the Darby Development outfit that operates Monmouth Park in New Jersey, told Playfecta.com. Drazin said Monmouth Park could be hit with an estimated $1.5-$2 million in costs next year for the anti-doping portion, and it may be able to spread that burden out among trainers and owners who already receive a per-start bonus from Monmouth Park.
Smaller outfits will be challenged and may have to absorb the costs rather than raise an already-high takeout percentage from the bettors. Horse racing gamblers, already beset by percentages in the 20-25% on many exotics, are not going to support what amounts to a tax increase. The industry perception is that raising the takeout lowers the handle, just as reducing the takeout to 12-15% in the Pick 4s elevates handle.
Drazin offered an interesting assessment regarding the drug testing component next year. The original assumption is that extra funding would cover the cost of many more horses being drug tested, perhaps all of them.
“But that can be deceiving,” he said. “A lot of people use things that can’t be detected. Or they come up with a designer component, something they can give the horse that won’t show up on a drug test and then they hope to get away with it.” Perhaps the better way is to have other types of enforcement, like investigations, personnel undercover, security cameras, wiretaps on phones, and out-of-competition testing. “You may see an increase in that area in an attempt to catch people cheating than simply having more horses tested,” Drazin added.
Even though the state of Texas has filed suit to avoid the new law, the measure has obtained strong support throughout the industry — in principle. The problem is the funding. It will be interesting to watch the process unfold. On one hand, states’ rights will be the most important factor. On the other, it will be the need for safety on a national level.
The “BetMakers Bonanza” was announced this week. It provides a $1 million bonus for connections of horses that sweep the July 23 Haskell Stakes at Monmouth, the Aug. 27 Travers at Saratoga, and the Nov. 5 Breeders’ Cup.
The bonus was paid out in 2019, when Authentic won the Haskell, the Kentucky Derby and Breeders’ Cup.
The bonus is bankrolled by Australian technology giant BetMakers, which launched the idea in 2019 to give the COVID-19-battered industry some sense of the Triple Crown. This week, Dallas Baker, the international head of operations for BetMakers, told Playfecta.com he would like to see another horse sweep the three-race bonus.
“It’s good for everyone,” he said. “It generates a lot of interest in the business, and when you do that, you always get more back than what you put in. I would not be surprised if this bonus adds another one or two horses to the Haskell.”
Likely entrants at this point include Jack Christopher, who is a blazing 4-for-4 and a speed demon at shorter distances. Monmouth Park rewards speed, and the track may be an ideal fit for him. More entrants will be known closer to the event.
Bombs Away, Salute to Long Shots
A tip of the long shots hat goes to Laurel, which provided this gem from Race 7 last Saturday.
Hello Gracie won the event at 5-1.
Madame Claude was second at 15-1 for a $271 exacta.
Oil on Canvas was third at 5-1. The $1 trifecta paid $735.
Bullets Lady was fourth at 12-1. The $$2 super paid $15,226, and the 10-center was worth $761.30.
What set it up was a big field of 13. That created multiple betting interests, and the payout reflected how competitive the field was.
Sometimes a small field and an inexpensive key can pay handily.
That happened at Churchill Downs last Saturday for race 3, with a small field of six.
Altered won at 10-1.
Justin’s Quest was second at 5-2, completing a $113 exacta.
Market Development secured third at 10-1, and the $1 trifecta paid $370.
Spheroid, at 2-1, was fourth. And the $1 superfecta paid $812.
Why it was inexpensive to play: Keying the 5-2 favorite in the second spot, placed in between two relative long shots, cost only $12 for the $1 key to put him in the first and second spot. That brought back $370.
A bettor also could have dabbled with the 5-2 and 2-1 favorites, taking a stab at some $1 superfectas with selected long shots.
Some bettors like wagers and payouts in this area because they are a little easier to hit.
Good luck hitting something, wherever you see the opening.