Archives for June 2017


It is always going out on a limb to declare how strong or weak a 3-year-old Thoroughbred crop is immediately following the Triple Crown series.  Last year in June, the name Arrogate was relatively unknown.  Even though he didn’t run in a single Triple Crown race, he ended up 2016 by winning the Travers and the Breeders’ Cup Classic, followed in early 2017 by winning the $12 million Pegasus World Cup and the $10 million Dubai World Cup.

As of now, the current 3-year-old crop in North America appears, in aggregate, to be mediocre.  Only one colt, Looking at Lee, competed in all three Triple Crown races.  Additionally, neither the winner of the Kentucky Derby nor the Preakness ran in the Belmont Stakes.  It could be that a late-developing colt emerges later this year, as Arrogate did in 2016.  Or maybe one of the Triple Crown entrants improves so much that he dominates his peers.


The Preakness is the race in the Triple Crown series with the most uncertainty surrounding it.  Pimlico is so run down that it may take as much as $500 million to rebuild it.  Pimlico’s owner, the Stronach Group, has said that the Preakness will remain in Maryland, though there are no guarantees that it won’t be moved to Laurel Park, also owned by the Stronach Group.

Laurel Park, located near Washington, DC, would likely have a difficult time accommodating the crowd size that typically shows up for the Preakness.  With a crowd of 140,000-plus, parking and seating would be an issue, as well as waiting times at the pari-mutuel windows and concession stands.  The Stronach Group’s other option, notwithstanding its statements about keeping the Preakness in Maryland, is to move the race to its Gulfstream Park facility in southeast Florida near Miami.  This would require the Stronach Group to vastly increase the seating capacity at Gulfstream Park, which would make good business sense because it would then have a physical plant sufficiently large to host the Breeders’ Cup.

Copyright © 2017 Horse Racing Business


Now that the Triple Crown races for 2017 are completed, an assessment can be made pertaining to the overall business outcomes of the triumvirate.

Kentucky Derby, May 6:

The telecast of the Derby had a rating of 10.5 and a share of audience of 23 (definitions for these terms are shown at the end of this article).  This was the second best performance in the past quarter century and the rating was an increase of 12.5% over 2016.   The race portion of the telecast had a rating of 9.3 and a TV audience of 19.1 million.

Kentucky Derby 143 was the most streamed ever with 281,000 unique visits—up 25% from last year.

Betting on the Derby program set a record with a handle of $209.2 million.  This was an improvement of 12% over 2016 and 8% better than the previous record of 2015.

The crowd at Churchill Downs was the seventh largest in the history of the race with 158,070 in attendance.

Preakness Stakes, May 20:

The telecast had a rating of 4.9 and a share of audience of 11.  The rating was 6.2 with a share of audience of 14 during the segment of the telecast that included the actual race.  These metrics should be viewed in context:  the Preakness earned the top rating for all sports telecasts on May 20, 2017.

The Preakness broke all attendance and wagering records.  Attendance was 140,327 versus 135,256 in 2016, a notable fact given the dilapidated condition of the Pimlico racing facility.  Betting handle for the entire Preakness program was $97.2 million, which was a 7.1% increase from 2016.

Belmont Stakes, June 10:

Absent the possibility of a Triple Crown champion and lacking the winners of the Kentucky Derby and Preakness, Belmont business metrics predictably were tepid.  Attendance was 57,729 and handle for the card was $93.7 million, declines versus 2016 of 4% and 5.8%, respectively.  The 3-day Belmont Stakes Racing Festival fared better, with handle increasing by 1.6% over last year to $124.7 million.

The Belmont telecast registered a rating of 3.4, a decrease of 21% from 2016, with the race portion having a rating of 4.3.  This was the least viewed Belmont since 2010.

By comparison, the primetime Major League Baseball telecast on Fox, beginning at 8 PM on June 10, 2017, had a rating among viewers 18-49 years old of 0.5, a share of 2.0, and an average audience of 2.31 million viewers.  Games in the Stanley Cup finals in hockey have been averaging a rating of 1.4 and games in the NBA finals so far are averaging a rating of 12.8.

Approximately $400 million was wagered on the combined race-day cards for the Kentucky Derby, the Preakness Stakes, and the Belmont Stakes.  This sum amounts to about 3.7% of current annual pari-mutuel handle in the United States.  Put differently, one tenth of one percent of all U. S. races account for 3.7% of handle, which vividly demonstrates the importance of the Triple Crown.

Copyright © 2017 Horse Racing Business


The Nielsen Company definitions:

“Rating:  Estimated percentage of the universe of TV households tuned to a program in the average minute. ”

Share of audience:  The percent of households (or persons) using television who are tuned to a specific program, station, or network in a specific area at a specific time.”



1.  The Belmont Stakes traditionally has been called the “test of the champion.”  That appellation is more appropriate for the Epsom Derby in that a distance of 1 ½ miles is more common and more valued in Europe than it is in the United States.  Even in Europe, however, the superstar and undefeated Frankel never ran in a race beyond 10 furlongs and most of his starts came at a mile.

In America, the overwhelming majority of racehorses never run a race of 12 furlongs and most of the horses that compete in the Belmont don’t run the distance again.  The Eclipse Awards denoting champions are populated with horses that never ran 12 furlongs, as is the list of leading sires.

“Test of the champion” has a noble ring to it, but it is not factually true.

2.  Following are the average times for the Belmont Stakes in the decades since 1960:

1960-1969:  2 minutes 28.86 seconds

1970-1979:  2 28.78

1980-1989:  2 27.94

1990-1999:  2 28.51

2000-2009:  2 28.58

2010-2016:  2 29.61

To be really precise, the years when the Belmont was run on off tracks should be eliminated from the calculations.  Nonetheless, the figures are sufficiently representative to conclude that race times have not improved over the last 57 years.  On the other hand, the 21st century American-bred 3-year-old racehorse appears just as capable of running 12 furlongs as his ancestors from over a half century ago.  (This view is subject to change, however, if the average time for the decade 2010 through 2019 turns out to be about a second slower than previous decades.)

3.  Without the possibility of a Triple Crown winner, the on-track and television audiences for the Belmont are likely to be mediocre.  In fact, neither the winner of the Kentucky Derby winner nor Preakness winner will be in the race.

Copyright © 2017 Horse Racing Business