Record Day For Breeders Cup?

by Ed Meyer

posted on October 14, 2008 in Breeders Cup, General Discussion | No Comments >>

A sagging economy? Gas prices holding you hostage? Every track in the country showing a decline? How can that translate into a record day for the Breeders’ Cup?

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 include 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). However, 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. 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 on 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 brain trust 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).

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. Any way you look at the weekend, it translates into a wagering bonanza for players. So bring your bankroll, and get in on the action.