Woodbine started up on Good Friday this year as opposed to the first Saturday in April last year, so a total apples to apples handle comparison can't be made because we've seen 6 cards this year versus 5 cards last year, but there is no doubt that Woodbine's management team is in panic mode right now, as they should be.
Last year after 5 dates, average handle was $2,264,082, and this was without being featured on TVG. This year, the average handle is only $1,815,093, which represents a drop of 19.8%. And if you take out the first Friday, the average now becomes $1,755,417 (a drop of 22.5%).
If you want to look at it another way, last year after only 5 days of horse racing at Woodbine, they did $429,853 in total handle more than they did in total handle after 6 racing days this year.
Last Friday, the total handle had to be embarrassing. Only $1,032,283 was wagered. In fact, Turf Paradise (whose purses equaled less than the featured allowance race at Woodbine that day), had a handle of $1,234,840. Mountaineer had a handle of $1,403,809. Incidentally, Tampa Bay Downs did $3,926,932 in handle on Friday.
Woodbine announced a 15% purse cut for harness races recently, and in a stunned move, took it out on the every day purses and left the Stake races alone. It was stated that after 4 days of racing this year, it was evident that betting on standardbred was off enough that a purse drop was inevitable.
Thoroughbred horsemen better brace themselves because it looks like Woodbine will have no choice but to drop purses soon if betting doesn't pick up significantly.
But why is betting off so much?
People playing catch up from last year's recession? Possible. There could be less disposable cash lying around these days from even a year ago. However, Vegas just announced that gross revenues were up over 13% in February over the previous February.
Credit crunch. It is harder, especially for Americans to get credit to play the ponies, and many horseplayers are stretched to the limit in Canada as well.
More horseplayers are leaving for Betfair, offshore betting, poker, etc. Again, Woodbine has done nothing to compete for the business of existing gamblers. From taking a cut from horseplayer's winnings on exotics at many US tracks (which disgust horseplayers) to having a high average track takeout on their own product that ranks 58th out of 69 tracks according to a recent study by HANA.
Existing horseplayers are more aware than ever before about track takeout as the main excuse for why they lose and can't last. More articles about horse racing, blogs and forums are bring up track takeout each and every day. Rebates, too are getting lots of ink.
It can't be the polytrack because Keeneland is grooving. On their opening day, they did over $7.5 million in handle. But then again, Keeneland is tied with Churchill Downs for having the lowest track takeout average in North America.
Woodbine remains being a stubborn corporate entity, and if they think that they can replace $1,000 a day bettors with $2 bettors, and keep purses where they are, they are kidding themselves.
It is too late to be proactive. It is time to panic, and time to think about the future. The HBPA also needs to play ball as well, or horsemen will wind up being like a deer in the headlight as purses will continue to drop if changes are not made immediately to the way Woodbine treats their customer, the bettor.
Takeout must be reduced significantly on all exotics outside of exactors and doubles. The practice of taking a cut of the horseplayer's winning on US exotics must be stopped as well. And if purse cuts do occur, they need to try to keep the lower end claiming purses as high as possible, because the biggest asset Woodbine has right now outside the existing horseplayer, is the existing owner and breeder. It has to be economical for them so that they stay in the game with as many horses as possible.
Fort Erie isn't budgeted for a 20% decrease in handle, but to date, have not made any announcement about keeping existing horseplayers or attracting more gamblers. They really need to address their high takeout rates. Fort Erie was rated 67th out of 69 tracks when it came to track takeout. Give the horseplayer back more money, they will last longer, and if they go home with a little more money, they are more likely to come back quicker.
Speaking about Fort Erie, here is an article about underrated jockey Krista Carrignan. Carrignan is represented by agent Scottie Lane this year. Fort Erie's season begins the first Saturday in May, which falls on the 1st this year.
Quebec only will race 10 days this year because of alleged red tape. Better than nothing. And Woodbine gets access to the Quebec betting market, who are used to betting into high takeouts. Not to say that many in Quebec gamblers have stopped playing ponies, at least in Canada.
Down The Stretch put out an edition less than two weeks ago. There is an interesting article on owner/breeder/former teen icon, David Cassidy by Perry Lefko.
I'll finish up with one of my favorite Partridge Family songs: