JC / Railbird

Night Numbers

By all accounts, Churchill Downs’ inaugural night of racing was a success: “It looks like the Dubai World Cup,” said jockey Julien Leparoux, surveying the crowd (Daily Racing Form); “We had to park and walk like it was Oaks or Derby day,” said an attendee (Paulick Report). The final attendance figure announced by Churchill was a healthy 28,011 for a card without a major stakes. But what about handle? As @superterrific noticed,

… all the reports of success don’t include handle …

Churchill no longer releases handle totals, but it is possible to glean clues about last night’s wagering from the pool data included on Equibase charts. For instance, on Friday, June 12, $1,966,831 was wagered WPS on 11 regularly scheduled races compared to the $2,309,563 that was wagered WPS yesterday on 11 nighttime races. That’s an increase of approximately 17% in the WPS pools week to week. In the late Pick 4 pool, $103,062 was wagered the previous Friday versus $137,689 last night, a 34% bump (the first Pick 4 pool was up 14%). Pick 3 pools totaled $273,409 compared to $243,508, up 12%. The tiny Pick 6 pool was up 80%, going from $4,811 last Friday to $8,653 last night. Total exacta pools showed some of the smallest growth, up a mere 6%, or $1,584,627 last night compared to $1,500,217 the week before.

Overall, not bad, considering the crowd skewed young and casual (Aside: Churchill took much criticism for raising the track entrance fee to $10, but clearly that didn’t keep people away and it surely made up for some of what many attendees didn’t — and wouldn’t have — bet). Looking at what information is available, it seems safe to conclude even without official figures that night racing was a win for handle as well as attendance.

Addendum: Curious about the totals, I returned to the charts and tallied all the pools for both dates. On June 12, total handle came to $5,872,007; on June 19, $6,526,603, an increase of 11%. Without figures from Churchill, it’s impossible to know the breakdown between on- and off-track wagering and whether on-track bettors wagered less per capita Friday night or how simulcast wagering might have been affected. Regarding the latter, it does seem likely the late post-times resulted in depressed off-track handle: The first three races on Friday night were the only races where pool totals didn’t exceed totals from the previous week. It was in race four, which had a post-time of 7:30 p.m., that wagering took off, with $704,666 wagered compared to $387,382 the week before. Take the first three races out of the totals for both days, and Churchill handle was up almost 18% for races four through eleven.

6/21/09 Update: The Courier-Journal reports that Churchill Downs took in $6.5 million from all sources (the same number I came to above), “a 32 percent increase.” Since the reporter earlier referenced 2008 numbers in discussing on-track numbers, I’m going to assume that this increase also represents a year to year comparison, not a week to week.


nice work! and very glad to see it was a success from both aspects.

Posted by dana on June 20, 2009 @ 2:33 pm

Now I know what is missing from The Meadowlands night racing.
Rock bands, Clowns, Celebrities.

Oh wait. They have those at the Izod Center and Giants stadium. :)

Posted by The_Knight_Sky racing blog on June 20, 2009 @ 4:55 pm

Well I’m back here to “pat” Jessica on her work with the handle numbers from Equibase charts.

There is interest on that subject at Ray Paulick’s blog judging from the comments in the post INAUGURAL DOWNS AFTER DARK ATTRACTS 28,011.

Posted by The_Knight_Sky racing blog on June 20, 2009 @ 8:59 pm

Thanks. Interesting to see the brief mention of figures in the Courier-Journal article I linked above. On-track handle comes in around $58 per capita, which seems pretty good for the crowd attracted.

Posted by Jessica on June 21, 2009 @ 1:19 pm

Yes, I saw that in Chris Ott’s report.

If the crowd had been a disappointing one, would Churchill have revealed the on-track handle figure? Most likely not.

The point is … Churchill Downs Inc. strayed from their policy.

Why not do the public a service and do what all racetracks should do — lay their cards on the table.

Posted by The_Knight_Sky racing blog on June 21, 2009 @ 4:53 pm