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Racing Sees Bump in Overall Handle in June

Horseplayers are supporting racing that’s available.

Like all sports, racing is facing challenges because of the COVID-19 pandemic, but with extensive coverage on national television, fans are finding the sport.

Those fans wagered nearly $1 billion on available racing in June 2020 as handle for the month actually was up 0.76% to $998,448,300 when compared with June 2019. That bump in handle occurred despite a near 40% reduction in race days to 300. While race dates have been lost as tracks adjust to COVID-19 restrictions, fans are supporting available racing as average wagering per race day jumped 68% in June to $3,328,161.

The available racing product is an upgrade for fans as tracks have spread out their schedules to fill available days—like Monday, Tuesday, and Wednesday cards. And, a reduction in racing opportunities has helped increase average field size, up 14% in June to 8.11 starters.

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Racing Loses a Legend: A.P. Indy Dies at 31

Classic winner A.P. Indy was the 1992 Horse of the Year.

 

A.P. Indy, the 1992 Horse of the Year and one of the world’s great stallions, died peacefully Feb. 21 at his longtime home at Lane’s End near Versailles, Ky.

Bill Farish of Lane’s End said everyone at the farm was leaning on one another on a difficult Friday. He noted how much A.P. Indy meant to his father, William S. Farish, who bred A.P. Indy with William Kilroy and later came back to own the horse as part of a partnership.

“Anytime Dad visits the farm, his first stop is to go visit A.P. Indy,” Bill Farish said, adding that Friday was a tough day for his dad.

A.P. Indy, a son of Triple Crown winner Seattle Slew, was the leading sire twice, leading broodmare sire once, and among the leaders on both lists multiple times.

 

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Purses Up, Pari-Mutuel Handle Down in 2019

Decline in pari-mutuel handle ends a four-year stretch of gains.

For all of racing’s problems in 2019, there certainly were plenty of locations where horsemen had reason for optimism behind strong purses. But, there most assuredly are numbers of concern in the year-end economic indicators released Jan. 6 by Equibase.

Fueled by strong purse growth in Kentucky—specifically Churchill Downs—purses for races in the United States increased 4.5% in 2019 to $1,167,921,650 compared with 2018. It’s the second straight season of strong growth for U.S. purses as they improved 3.5% in 2018.

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Jockey McMahon Earns Milestone Victory

C.J. McMahon earned his 1,000th career win Jan. 1 at Delta Downs.

 

Multiple graded stakes-winning jockey C.J. McMahon celebrated the new year with a milestone win Jan. 1 at Delta Downs.  Riding 3-5 favorite Cavallotto in the fourth race Wednesday, McMahon delivered a front-running score in the one-mile claiming event to secure the 1,000th victory of his career. Cavallotto is trained by Karl Broberg, who in 2019 finished as the leading conditioner by wins in North America for the sixth straight season.

Broberg regularly calls on McMahon and in 2019 the pair teamed to win 132 races from 489 starts, including a victory in the Bluebonnet Stakes with Ima Discreet Lady in April at Lone Star Park.

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Thoroughbred Idea Foundation Calls for Affordable Data

Group said free, or reduced-price data would spur interest in ownership, wagering.

 

An industry group focused on improving horse racing, especially for gamblers and owners, is calling on the industry’s data collector, Equibase, to share more information for free or at greatly reduced prices. In a White Paper issued March 11, the Thoroughbred Idea Foundation said Equibase should consider the collection and distribution of racing data as a marketing expense and distribute it for free, or as open as possible. The White Paper argues that this approach would attract and retain gamblers while empowering owners to make more educated decisions.

TIF board member Tom Reynolds, an active handicapping tournament player who has become a horse owner through Eclipse Thoroughbred Partners after spending more than three decades as a sales and marketing executive for Pepsi-Cola North America, believes such an approach to racing’s data would help increase interest in ownership and wagering.

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Jockey Tim Thornton Registers Career Win 2,000

Last year Thornton ranked second in wins among all North American riders.

 

Jockey Tim Thornton, who in 2018 posted more wins than any rider except Eclipse Award winner Irad Ortiz Jr., secured the 2,000th victory of his career in the sixth race Feb. 16 at Delta Downs.

In the milestone race Saturday, Thornton sent M and M Racing’s She’sgotthebeatto the lead along the rail, opened that advantage to two lengths in the stretch, then held off a late charge from longshot Theboyzblues to win by a half-length. She’sgotthbeat is trained by Robertino Diodoro.

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Underpressure Back for Premier Night Championship Try

Last year Underpressure finished second in the LA Bred Premier Night Championship.

 

After coming up just short in last year’s Louisiana-bred Premier Night Championship Stakes at Delta Downs, Underpressure will try to earn a trip to the winner’s circle this year against an expected nine state-bred rivals in the 1 1/16-mile test Feb. 9.

The $150,000 Premier Night Championship is one of six stakes for Louisiana-breds that will award a total $675,000 in purses. The card also features four starter stakes that will award another $220,000.

In last year’s Premier Night Championship, Mallory Greiner’s Underpressure launched a strong rally from sixth but would be edged for the win by Mobile Bay, who prevailed by a nose. Underpressure, a son of Birdstone , will be making his first start as a 5-year-old after closing last season with a 3 1/2-length score over state-breds in the Louisiana Champions Day Classic Dec. 8 at Fair Grounds Race Course & Slots.

Trained by Chris Richard, Underpressure boasts three stakes wins and seven stakes placings as he enters his fourth season of racing. On Saturday he’ll start from post four with jockey Corey Lanerie aboard.

After a stakes win and an allowance-optional claiming victory sprinting at Fair Grounds, Valene Farms’ Givemeaminit will stretch out Saturday while Brittlyn Stable’s Magic Vow will try for a second consecutive stakes win after a four-length victory in the off-the-turf Louisiana Champions Day Turf Stakes Dec. 8 at Fair Grounds.

The field also includes the second- and third-place finishers from the Louisiana Champions Day Classic in runner-up Grande Basin and third-place finisher Mageez.

In the other five stakes for state-breds on Saturday’s Louisiana Premier Night card:

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Bill Aims to End Export of Horses for Slaughter

Similar legislation was filed in 2017 but stalled in committee.

 

Bipartisan legislation filed in the United States House of Representatives Jan. 30 aims to halt the shipping of horses to Canada or Mexico for slaughter.

Representatives Jan Schakowsky, an Illinois Democrat, and Vern Buchanan, a Florida Republican, reintroduced Wednesday the Safeguard American Food Exports Act, which would prohibit horse-slaughter plants from operating in the U.S. and end the export of horses across the border for this purpose.

Marty Irby, executive director of Animal Wellness Action, said the act is a permanent solution as opposed to the current de facto ban in place since 2006, which is accomplished by not funding regulatory appropriations to allow such plants to operate. Irby noted the bill includes 219 co-sponsors in the 115th Congress, more than half the House.

Similar legislation, the Safeguard American Food Exports Act of 2017, stalled in committee despite having more than 200 co-sponsors.

“Horses have a special place in our nation’s history, and these majestic creatures were not raised as food for humans,” Schakowsky said. “The SAFE Act would prohibit any horse slaughter plant from opening and also end the sale or transport of horses and horse parts in the U.S. and abroad for the purpose of human consumption. I am proud to reintroduce this bill and work with Congressman Buchanan to put an end to this practice.”

“The slaughter of horses for human consumption is a barbaric practice that has no place in America,” Buchanan said. “I will continue to lead the effort with Congresswoman Schakowsky to ban domestic horse slaughter and end the export of horses abroad for slaughter.”

National Thoroughbred Racing Association president and CEO Alex Waldrop said Wednesday he has not read through the entire bill yet, but one potential concern would be that the legislation could hinder transport of horses to Mexico or Canada for legitimate reasons, like racing or breeding.

U.S. Senators Lindsey Graham, a South Carolina Republican, and Bob Menendez, a New Jersey Democrat, intend to introduce a similar bill in the Senate soon.

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Sports Wagering Symposium Outlines Changing Landscape

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In a gravelly voice that clearly has spent many hours cheering teams and horses, race and sports book legend Victor Salerno offered racing some verbal encouragement as it prepares for fast-emerging legal sports wagering.

Salerno, a 40-year veteran of the race and sports book industry in Nevada, offered that encouragement at the Sports Wagering and Impact on Horse Racing Symposium presented by BloodHorse and Breeders’ Cup Sept. 6 at Keeneland. Three panels at the symposium outlined the opportunities and potential challenges for racing, as legal sports wagering comes online throughout the country. Racing relies on pari-mutuel wagering as its economic engine.

“You shouldn’t be afraid to do this,” Salerno said of tracks also offering sports wagering, noting tracks that do so will increase their foot traffic, providing opportunities to reach new customers. “Racing’s a great sport; we have to keep it going.”

At the three-hour presentation, panelists touched on wide-ranging topics related to sports wagering, including the benefits and challenges of offering sports wagering at tracks; opportunities for current advance-deposit wagering companies to expand to sports wagering or partner with sports wagering sites to cross-promote one another; an opportunity for racing to provide needed content for wagering in this new environment; the addition of non-pari-mutuel wagers in racing, like fixed-odds bets; and challenges that could include a competitive disadvantage as high-takeout racing in an atmosphere where low-takeout sports betting will be readily available.

Monmouth Park vice president of business operations Bill Knauf offered some firsthand experience since the New Jersey track brought in William Hill to operate on-track sports wagering in June. Knauf said the sports betting crowd is largely male and younger than the typical horseplayer. He noted the sports betting crowd has helped the track improve its simulcast handle as bettors are showing up early and staying late to watch West Coast baseball games.

Knauf said tracks have plenty of available parking, interior space that readily can be used to build first-rate sports books, and through their simulcast operations are familiar with bringing in multiple TV signals. He noted tracks routinely offer more such signals than even a Las Vegas sportsbook.

Panelist Victor Bigio, an online gaming marketer at Sportech, said tracks also have the space to host eSports events that are quickly gaining in popularity with young people. He said tracks should take advantage and offer those events and accept wagers on them.

Many states soon will be making these decisions. Beyond the three racing states that have already launched full sports wagering this year—New Jersey, Delaware, and West Virginia—Sara Slane of the American Gaming Association noted another 19 states have had bills proposed.

William Hill U.S. executive Dan Shapiro noted the planning that went into Monmouth has produced a facility where sports betting and race betting are well-integrated. He said a sports betting facility at Hollywood Casino at Charles Town Races is in the casino and separated from racing. He thinks the Monmouth model has a better chance of success for both sports wagering and race handle.

“What Monmouth has done with that integrated experience is the model we think tracks should look at in the future,” Shapiro said.

Just hours after TVG (FanDuel Group) announced Thursday plans to add a pair of Sunday morning shows that will largely focus on betting the NFL, FanDuel Group general counsel John Hindman said that variety should bring a more diverse group to the racing channel and its various sports and race wagering platforms.

He said the FanDuel platform will market race wagering, noting it will be presented in a way that will make sense to sports bettors. He also noted the benefits of cross-marketing—millions of dollars have been spent promoting FanDuel, initially a Daily Fantasy site, in recent years.

One aspect of betting sports those customers understand, on some level, is takeout in the 5% or 6% range. Ed Hannah of The Stronach Group said with those expectations, racing will need to thoroughly examine its much higher takeout (the amount of money not returned to bettors in winnings, which in racing is retained largely for tracks and purses) as it tries to attract new customers and retain current players.

“Lesson No. 1 is the takeout rate is too high. We need to figure out a more optimal takeout rate,” Hannah said. “There’s a little more wiggle room on multi-race or multi-interest wagers.”

He noted that in the online atmosphere, sports bettors will quickly notice the difference.

“People putting money in their deposits will notice that difference,” Hannah said, explaining that because of takeout, the average sports bettor can make a $100 deposit last much longer than the average horseplayer. “We have to do a lot of thinking about (takeout).”

Sports betting faces its own battle for customers, many of whom currently wager through illegal bookmakers, local or offshore. Panelists noted that one way legal operators will be able to compete is by offering a greater variety of wagers and events. They said the frequency of races, offered throughout the week, should prove attractive to sports betting sites.

Hindman noted that race wagering routinely is one of the top sports in terms of handle in other countries that already allow sports wagering.

While panelists offered a wide variety of opinions and ideas, all acknowledged the fast-changing landscape and racing’s need to be innovative rather than shrink away.

“We can take (the emergence of sports wagering) and put it toward the enhancement of the racing industry here,” Salerno said. “Don’t be afraid.”

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Churchill Downs Inc. Hopes to End Racing at Calder

Horsemen note that such a move would cost some $10 million in purse money.

Florida industry groups have lined up to oppose a plan by Churchill Downs Inc. to end Thoroughbred racing at its Calder property, a move that could cost horsemen about $10 million a year in purses generated by slot machines at Calder Casino.

In February, CDI was awarded a pari-mutuel jai alai license from Florida’s Department of Business and Professional Regulation, Division of Pari-Mutuel Wagering. With that approval, CDI currently holds pari-mutuel licenses for both jai alai and Thoroughbred racing at Calder, but the latter will expire in 2020.

In documents submitted to the DPMW, CDI said it wishes to switch from racing to jai alai, a move that would reduce its expenses associated with statutory purse fund requirements. On July 31, Calder submitted an email to the DPMW requesting a declaratory statement from the regulator about whether the switch would jeopardize its casino license.

Under state law, the casinos at Gulfstream Park and Calder both pay into a single Thoroughbred purse fund, a commitment of 10% of their slot machine revenues. Even though Gulfstream owner The Stronach Group has taken over racing operations at the former Calder Race Course property—now run as Gulfstream Park West—the Calder casino generates revenues for purses and breeder awards all year. The Florida Horsemen’s Benevolent and Protective Association estimates revenue from the Calder casino committed to the purse fund will reach $9 million-$10 million this year.

The Florida HBPA has filed motions with the DPMW opposing CDI’s plans to change the Calder pari-mutuel license from Thoroughbred racing to jai alai. Late Aug. 23 in a joint release, Gulfstream Park, the Florida Thoroughbred Breeders’ and Owners’ Association, and the Ocala Breeders’ Sales Company each expressed opposition to CDI ending racing in favor of jai alai.

The Florida FTBOA noted that voters approved casino gaming at Calder with the understanding that it would support Thoroughbred racing. It said that support has allowed CDI to successfully operate slot machines at its Calder property since 2010.

“Now, Churchill Downs apparently sees the opportunity to pull a ‘bait-and-switch’ in the interests of increasing its profits, with little regard for the economic harm its moves will cause to the faithful Florida trainers, owners, and breeders that have long supported its racing program, as well as the other Florida tracks and participants in Florida’s Thoroughbred industry,” the FTBOA noted.

Calder officials believe that under the language of the state law, a move from racing to jai alai should be allowed. Under the company’s interpretation, it’s not a high bar to clear for such a switch. It said the law only requires the property be located in Miami-Dade County, existed at the time added gaming was adopted, and conducted live racing in the calendar years 2002-03—all standards Calder meets. If the DPMW agrees with the company’s assessment, Calder plans to offer summer jai alai and discontinue Thoroughbred operations.

The Florida HBPA noted that following the 2004 state-wide vote that allowed slot machines at Calder and six other pari-mutuel facilities in Miami-Dade and Broward counties, the legislature recognized the “importance of protecting and promoting Florida’s Thoroughbred racing industry against the possibility that Calder and Gulfstream Park, the state’s two Thoroughbred tracks eligible for slot machine gaming, would abandon their Thoroughbred racing activities and instead offer patrons slot machine gaming only.”

In a filing with the DPMW, the Florida HBPA noted that in 2004 it committed $1 million to Calder to help campaign for the approval of slot machine gaming at tracks. It also outlined the far greater interest in Thoroughbred racing, as opposed to jai alai.

“The division knew, or should have known, that the substantial interests of FHBPA and its members would be or would likely be adversely affected,” the FHBPA argued.

In the release, Florida industry groups said if Calder is allowed to abandon Thoroughbred racing, the negative impact will be significant.

“It is extremely disappointing to watch Churchill Downs continue its effort to extricate itself from the racing business in Florida while adding millions more to its bottom line in slot revenue,” OBS officials said, before referencing the elimination of the grandstand and barns on the Calder property. “Calder’s Florida mission is illustrated by its past performances, which include bulldozing over half of the barn area, taking a wrecking ball to the grandstand, and supporting decoupling. Its latest attempt to exit racing via jai alai is a backdoor effort to continue operating slots and reopen its card room without horse racing. If Churchill gets its wish, the implications will stretch far beyond the Florida borders, and ripple effects will be felt nationwide in the sales ring, on the racetrack, and in the breeding shed.”

Decoupling is a proposal being debated that, if adopted, would allow operators to cease pari-mutuel wagering but retain their casino license.

In terms of casino operations, Gulfstream noted that if Calder eliminates its commitments to racing, that reduction in expenses will provide its casino a competitive advantage in the South Florida area. It also said Thoroughbred racing and breeding in the state would be hurt.

“We are obviously worried about the unlevel playing field and advantage Calder would have, along with the loss of breeders’ awards and purse money that has helped grow the industry,” Gulfstream officials said. “The ability just to change the use of a license after being granted slots under a different license would undermine all the growth we have achieved.”

On Aug. 24, a CDI spokesperson declined to comment on the Florida industry release.

Calder began advertising a part-time position on the company website and on LinkedIn for a jai alai player manager/trainer Aug. 6 and a position Aug. 9 for a cesta and pelota maker. A cesta is the basket a jai alai player wears on his or her hand to throw and catch the ball, and the pelota is the ball.

Since 2014, The Stronach Group has run the racing operations at Calder, which races as Gulfstream Park West. According to the DPMW, in fiscal year 2016-17, Gulfstream Park West offered 37 race dates and 346 races, with total purses of $7,593,910.

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