As with the 2022 Preakness Stakes, the 2022 Belmont Stakes did not have a lot to offer to interest bettors and television viewers…and the results reflect this reality.  With the connections of Kentucky Derby winner Rich Strike skipping the Preakness, there was no possibility of a Triple Crown winner and the field for the Belmont did not have star power or the prospect of an intriguing matchup.  The main draw was to see if Rich Strike’s win in the Kentucky Derby was a fluke.

All-sources betting was $98.8 million, compared to $112.7 million in 2021, which was a wagering record for a non-Triple Crown year.  This was a decline of about 12.4%.  While on-track betting on 13 races was $9.5 million, up from $7.5 million in 2021, the contrast is meaningless because in 2021 NYRA limited attendance to approximately 11,000.  All-sources handle on the Belmont only was $50.3 million, a decrease from 2021 when the handle was $60.5 million. 

Television ratings were tepid.  The race portion of the Belmont Stakes earned a rating of 2.65 and had viewership of 4.72 million people.  This was up slightly from 2021 but was the third smallest TV audience since 2000.

The paid attendance was 46,301 but not much can be read into this statistic.  Due to construction of UBS Arena on Belmont property, NYRA capped attendance at 50,000.

In 2022, the Triple Crown business metrics were strong for the Kentucky Derby and modest for the Preakness and Belmont. Regardless of the sport, absent star power, an event won’t attract as many fans as it would with a Tiger Woods, Serena Williams, or an American Pharaoh.

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Wayne Perry of the Associated Press recently wrote an informative article about the growth of sports betting in the United States since the nation’s Supreme Court rendered a decision in 2018 that enabled states to legalize it.  Following are several key points reported by Perry:

Since the Supreme Court’s decision on May 14, 2018, 35 states and Washington D. C. have legalized sports betting.  It is already operational in 30 states with others, such as Ohio, close to operational. 

As of mid-May 2022, bettors in the United States have wagered $125 billion legally.  This is more than the net income for farmers in 2021 and exceeds the amount spent last year for pet food, supplies, and veterinary care.  The $125 billion does not include the amount bet illegally.

80% of sports bets are via mobile phones. 

In-game betting is the fastest growth segment of sports betting.

The overarching question for the horse racing industry is whether sports betting mostly cannibalizes or fosters pari-mutuel wagering.  Sportsbooks typically have a takeout rate of less than 10% of the betting handle, whereas the takeout in horse racing is much higher…and in some cases with exotic bets over twice as much.

Horse racing is experimenting with fixed-odds betting (an unfortunate nomenclature) to incorporate an attractive element of sports betting.  This and innovations like in-race wagering emulate proven advantages of sports betting.  However, the extent to which sports bettors can be attracted to pari-mutuel wagering is problematic, given the disparity in takeout percentages.  On premier race days like the Triple Crown events and Breeders’ Cup, people who do not normally bet on horse racing often partake.  Whether fixed-odds betting, in-race betting, and other elements of sports betting can bring in sports bettors on pedestrian race days is the predominant issue for horse racing.

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Rich Strike’s shocking win in the 2022 Kentucky Derby at 80-1 odds has been attributed by some observers to likely be a fluke.  The upcoming Belmont Stakes on June 11 will provide a better look into whether this view is correct.

In the colt’s final workout at Churchill Downs on May 30, on a fast track, he covered 5 furlongs in 59 seconds and 6 furlongs in 1:12 flat.  Galloping out, he seemed to indicate that, given the right ride, stamina for the 1 ½ mile Belmont will no problem. Since arriving at Belmont Park, he has become acclimated to the track through long and easy gallops that further his conditioning.

Rich Strike’s sire, Keen Ice (by Curlin, second in the Belmont), defeated American Pharoah in the 2015 1 ¼ mile Travers.  He earned $3,407,245 from 24 starts, with 3 wins, 4 places, and 5 shows.  He ran second in the Haskell Invitational, third in the Belmont, third in the Breeders’ Cup Classic as a 4-year-old, won the Suburban as a 5-year-old, and was on the board in other prestigious races.  Rich Strike’s dam, Cold Strike, is by Smart Strike and had a racing record of 4 wins, 3 places, and a show from 9 starts, with career earnings of $564,500. 

Rich Strike has a record of 2 wins, 0 places, and 3 shows from 8 starts.  His performances range from winning the Kentucky Derby to being claimed by his present owner in a $30,000 maiden claiming race as a 2-year-old. 

The colt’s pedigree and the way he won the Kentucky Derby indicate that a 1 ½ mile race is well within his capacity.  A handicapping wild card is that his jockey, Sonny Leon, has not ridden at Belmont Park.  Vastly more experienced and more celebrated jockeys have made the mistake in the Belmont of moving too soon.  One wonders about Leon’s sense of pace, as the data are scant.

Another unknown is what the pace will be like in the Belmont.  Rich Strike was able to come from far back to win the Derby because of a blistering pace, a masterful ride, and racing luck.  Barring an exceptionally fast pace in the Belmont, Leon will have to position the colt closer to the lead than in the Derby.  As for his competition in the Belmont, the rest of the field looks pedestrian.

Rich Strike may be a late-blooming colt who is coming into the Belmont well rested, finely tuned, and set to advance.  But his odds will likely be too low to compensate a bettor for the risks involved. 

Copyright © 2022 Horse Racing Business