by Al Cimaglia
October 18, 2018
On Saturday October 27, The Downs at the Mohegan Sun Pocono in Wilkes-Barre Pennsylvania will be the host of the 2018 Breeders Crown, the richest night in harness racing with over $6,000,000 in purses. Pocono will be making a statement and hoping for a positive return as they will be cutting the takeout rates on all wagers to 15%. The reduced takeout will also be in place this weekend on Friday and Saturday's card as eliminations for the Breeders Crown will be contested. There is no doubt the Breeders Crown is a special event, one in which harness racing needs to shine and create a buzz. For 2018, according to USTA statistics overall betting is down .78% from last year at this time so a boost in interest wouldn't hurt.
Pennsylvania is not known for friendly takeouts. Usually win-place-show takeouts are 19%, exactas and daily doubles are normally 20%, while trifectas and superfectas are 30%. Typical takeouts for horizontal bets and the high-5 are 25%. So, the reduced rate of 15% represents a substantial cut. But will it lead to a handle which will surpass last year's Breeders Crown at Hoosier Park and compare favorably or go above the totals for Breeders Crown races at The Meadowlands in 2016?
Last year at Hoosier Park the weather didn't cooperate, although the betting action was very good for Anderson Indiana it was not so good when comparing to The Meadowlands the year before. In 2016 over two nights and 26 races on Breeders Crown weekend at the Big M, the total handle was approximately $6,409,798 compared to $3,837,844 last year at Hoosier Park. It should be noted, at Hoosier Park there were 14 races on the Friday and Saturday cards.
There was about a 40% decline from 2016 to 2017 and it had little to do with the quality of the card, but the drop-off could be best explained by the difference in location. In my view, Hoosier Park Vice President and GM Rick Moore honestly assessed and defined the differences from 2016 when he stated, "We are not The Meadowlands. We are not New York City." Spot on, as central Indiana can't be compared to New York-New Jersey. But why the significant lower handle considering so much of the betting is done off-track?
My thinking remains the same, old habits die hard. On a big event weekend not only do regular harness bettors contribute to the handle but also occasional players. There is a certain cache for a considerable audience to bet on a Meadowlands card rather than a track in Anderson Indiana. This is not meant as a slight to Hoosier Park, their TV production on Breeders Crown weekend was excellent. Also, it appeared they pulled out all stops with promotions and marketing.
Many players like to bet full fields on larger ovals and both Hoosier and the Big M fall into that category. The same can't be said for Pocono Downs which is a 5/8's mile surface and that could lead to some drop-off in handle. The key issue is if the reduction in takeout will lead to a comparable handle or possibly surpass the Breeders Crown of 2016 in East Rutherford New Jersey.
The jury is out right now if the reduced takeout will attract new money and create a larger handle than in recent years. The sport needs to make a statement and there is no better time to do so then on October 27 when the best horses and drivers are competing for large purses. If the reduced takeout at Pocono makes a substantial difference in the handle it could lead to changes at other race tracks. On many fronts next weekend is important as there are questions which need to be answered.
If the upcoming Breeders Crown with a 15% takeout, doesn't come close to the $6.4 million bet at the Meadowlands in 2016 then why alternate to tracks in less populated areas or that are smaller ovals? Why not only rotate between the two tracks that have garnered the largest handles for the Breeders Crown, which would be the Big M and the Canadian couterpart which is now Mohawk Woodbine Park?
The Breeders Crown is the statement event for harness racing, it should make an impact and help to grow the fan base. Although alternating amongst a few different tracks was a nice concept, the numbers have shown the handle suffers. At the end of the day the Breeders Crown is not a Super Bowl like event whereby location doesn't really matter.
Check me out on Twitter, @AlCimaglia