JC / Railbird

Business of Racing

Stars Aligning

The Pegasus World Cup is coming to Gulfstream on January 28, 2017, and to get a spot in the 12-horse starting gate, owners will have to buy an entry for $1 million, which will go into the purse, making the $12 million Pegasus the world’s richest Thoroughbred race. (Somewhere, Sheikh Mohammed’s gritting his teeth at this trumping.) The money doesn’t only guarantee entry, though:

All entrants will not only be competing for the world’s largest purse, but they will also share equally in 100% of the net income from pari-mutuel handle, media rights, and sponsorships from the Pegasus World Cup, according to The Stronach Group announcement.

Aspects of the Pegasus plan, which allows owners buying an entry to also lease a starter or sell their place in their gate, immediately reminded me of Fred Pope’s star vision from 2011. You might remember this idea:

Maybe, just maybe, the system we have been using for compensating our talent in racing has become a problem, a big problem. This year, if things go well, Uncle Mo’s races could have total wagering handle of more than $200 million. With average takeout of twenty percent, the wagering revenue generated by Uncle Mo’s races, $40 million, will go somewhere else.

Of that $40 million, about $10 million (5% of the $200 million wagered) will go to the host tracks where the races are held and be split between track operators and future purses. The remaining $30 million (15% of the total wagered) will go to those simply taking bets on Uncle Mo’s races. Why?

Why can’t the top finishers in Uncle Mo’s races receive the $20 million in purses due from wagering on their races? Our stars need to be compensated for the revenue they generate. That’s how the real world works.

Racing’s welfare system is not working for those putting on the show, thus it is not working for Uncle Mo, and the other brands in the sport. Racing needs the same distribution model as the Apple brand, where Apple sells customers direct, through bricks and mortar outlets and through on-line vendors.

The Pegasus World Cup is selling direct. Even if it doesn’t upend the current economic structure of racing, it’s a step in that direction.

5/19/16 Addendum: I missed this Tom LaMarra story in January, which quotes Frank Stronach addressing the business model experiment angle:

“The basic idea is how can racing compete with other great sports?” Stronach said. “We’ve got to make things exciting, things the press will write about. We want to tell people that love horse racing that we say, ‘Look. We want to establish a new business.’ We would lease Gulfstream for one day and call it a new business.”

He was cagier about it when asked by T.D. Thornton last week:

TDN: If the profit-sharing concept works with a race of this magnitude, could the concept be scalable? By that I mean could you see profit-sharing trickling down as a way of funding other types of races or even entire racing programs or race meets?

FS: That’s possible. But smaller races are less interesting, right?

Nothing to See Here

Charlie Hayward on “Big Days” at racetracks:

I believe that consolidating stakes too aggressively can have the opposite of the intended effect — actually reducing customer interest and wagering activity on regular and weekend race days throughout the rest of the meet. “Big Days” are exciting for the casual racetrack customer. However, I would suggest that offering consistent weekend race cards combined with a takeout reduction would be a better way to grow the racing business and make our product more competitive with other gambling and entertainment offerings.

Yes. How easy is it to find something else to do when even a holiday weekend card is full of short fields and/or lacks a classy feature? The many factors making super-cards a trend “may have reached critical mass with Saturday’s card at Belmont,” says Mike Watchmaker, running down an afternoon of racing that’s “a little scary” in its lower-level quality. (Sunday isn’t better.)

Stakes Inflation

Chris Rossi on the graded stakes bubble:

As foal crops have declined, so has the number of race days for a total of 6,250 race days lost since 2006. Yet the number of stakes awarded graded status has remained level: 475 awarded in 2006 and 474 awarded in 2011. This failure to adapt to the new racing landscape has resulted in an increase of 14% in the number of races awarded graded status.

The 2016 projection should strike fear in everyone involved in breeding and selling American Thoroughbreds. Without correction, short fields and ducking connections won’t be just the bane of bettors in the very near future.

(Neither the Paulick Report nor Equidaily like to pick up Raceday 360 pieces, but both should aggregate this one.)

The International Market

Keeneland auctioneers adapt:

“You try and get rhythm in your chant, but at the same time you understand you’ve got people out there speaking probably 15 or 20 different languages, and most of the time they’re looking at the tote board now instead of listening to you,” he said. “So it’s very important that you are clear and precise in your numbers and everybody understands what the bid is and what the current asking price is.”

The Disconnect

From Matt Hegarty’s must-read on the state of the racing business:

But continuing to fatten purses is a solution that directly serves horsemen, not bettors. In a macroeconomic sense, it’s hard to argue that the $318 million in subsidies distributed to purses in 2009 made the game better. The U.S. foal crop cratered, the bloodstock market remained in its doldrums, and handle continued to decline at unprecedented rates.

Slots are the subject above, but unleavened takeout increases are similarly flawed. We’re seeing the results of a horsemen-first view in California now.