Wednesday, November 5, 2008

Belmont Trend Continues on Downward Path

The New York Racing Association has just released the final numbers for the recently concluded Belmont meet.  As one would expect, they're  all down from the same meet last year, at least when calculated on a per-day basis. This year's meet had four more racing days than in 2007, so some of the aggregates are higher, but that doesnt hide the negative trend.

According to the NYRA press release, the average all-sources daily handle for the Belmont meet was 8.3% below last year's figure, coming in at $9.63 million per day.  NYRA did not say how much of that handle was bet on-track or through NYRA's own phone and internet account system; those are the bets that contribute the most to NYRA and to horsemen's purses. Off-track bets, whether through OTBs, other tracks, internet sites, etc., pay much less of the takeout to NYRA.  Trends around the country suggest that on-track wagering is falling at a faster rate than total handle, so the hit to NYRA's bottom line could well be more than the reported 8.3%

Searching for a positive spin, NYRA reported that the daily handle decline at Belmont  was actually lower than the 10.2% decline registered at this year's Saratoga meet.  But Saratoga had three weeks of horrendous weather to open the meet, while Belmont benefitted from near-perfect weather.

Daily attendance dropped even further.  On an average day at Belmont this fall, only 3,987 hard-core fans passed through the turnstiles, compared to 5,001 last year.  That's a drop of more than 20%, once again suggesting that the on-track betting handle was probably the worst-performing part of this year's Belmont betting mix.

Average daily purses also declined, although somewhat less than the decline in betting handle.  The daily average for the stakes-heavy Belmont meet this year was $574,036, a 7.7% decline from last year's daily average of $622,116.  Purse adjustments generally lag behind developments in handle and attendance, and NYRA responded to the decreases at Belmont by significantly cutting purses for the Aqueduct fall mett, which started October 29th.

The new NYRA Board of Trustees will be meeting soon to set the 2009 stakes schedule.  It would be prudent to take a chunk out of the stakes budget, in the hope of keeping purses at least at their current level.  The Phippses and Maktoums may be doing fine, and I'm happy for them to add to their trophy collections. But the everyday working New York horseman and woman is having a tough time making a go of it in this very expensive milieu.  If overnight purses decline much further, it'll be hard for many of them to stay in business.

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