After several weeks of what appeared to be a downturn in pari-mutuel revenue, things seem to have bounced back over the Memorial Day weekend. Almost all tracks showed a 2019 Memorial weekend uptick compared to 2018. For example, Tier 1 tracks like Gulfstream reflected an over 20% increase worth over $5M in additional total revenue, while Pimlico showed an over 12% increase and Belmont reflected a more modest increase near 3%. Smaller Tier 2 and 3 tracks did not fair quite as well though some, such as Prairie Meadows in Iowa showed an over 15% increase. This information is publicly available on Equibase, though it is important to note that certain tracks do not reflect either attendance or pari-mutuel revenues in their charts.
These increases are certainly good news considering prior weeks have reflected fairly consistent year over year drop offs, which I believe was due to nationwide media coverage of Santa Anita fatalities and the way American racing responds to such issues. Consumer attitudes may also have been affected by the recent one-sided HBO episode on Real Sports which highlighted fatalities and certain distasteful practices associated with racing in America.
While American Racing needs to change and adopt “best known worldwide safety methods” related to racing surfaces, race day medication, rule structures, medication protocols and centralized national control, I find the hypocritical media is much more interested in creating dramatic stories than offering honest and balanced views of issues. For example, while HBO elected to negatively slant their Real Sports episode, they made absolutely no mention of their foolish “Luck” drama cancelled many years ago after a spate of equine fatalities during the filming period. The three horses that were reported to have died during the filming time frame reflected a mortality rate several times higher than any fatality rate American racing was being criticized for on the HBO’s Real Sports episode!
Though the long-term American racing pari-mutuel revenue trends are not positive, and I still think that American racing may be at a tipping point related to reinventing itself, the long-held activity of racing in America will continue for many years at Tier 1 levels, and it may have only been temporarily affected by recent negative media coverage. The next few weeks and months will tell much more, particularly if every racing fatality results in a media story, and American racing continues to embarrass itself by paying only lip to safety measures already proven to be more effective in other countries.
Dave Astar is a race horse owner, stallion owner, breeder, 40 year business executive, and 50 year handicapper.