The old axiom is it is necessary to provide the best racing to attract the wagering dollar. Cal Expo is proving that is a falsehood. For the second time in a month, Cal Expo is increasing their purses by 25%, meaning purses will have actually gone up over 56% by the end of this month. This, a track where the majority of races consist of $2,500 claimers. How can this be? How does a track, which due to its geographical location, races horses a step above Thunder Ridge manage to do this?
Cal Expo offers racing two nights a week and over last weekend, handled a total of $2,228,486, with last Saturday's card totaling $1,083,316. Yes, racing over two nights, they have fifteen race cards, but for a harness track, these are astronomical handles, perhaps exceeded only by Balmoral, Meadowlands, and Yonkers. Mind you this is on the Pacific Coast where they finish racing just before 3:00am in the morning on the East Coast; long after racing action in the rest of the nation is done. How do they do it?
Quality is overrated. What handicappers want are competitive racing and lower takeouts. Quality is nice, but not essential. Breeders want top quality horses and fast horses. Gamblers could care less how fast a horse goes if it is not a competitive race. Obviously handle matter as gamblers want pools that are deep enough to wager on, but just as important is they want races where you don't see a steady parade of odds-on horses winging home.
Where Cal Expo has excelled this year is through their Pick 4s. All Pick 4s are 15% and on Friday night they offer a $20,000 guaranteed Pick 4 plus for all players who wager on track or through TwinSpires, a bonus which gives them a net takeout rate of 0%. However, where Cal Expo is really excelling is on Saturday night where they pay TVG to televise their late Pick 4 (also a $20,000 guaranteed pool) on their live broadcast. During this time, not only is the Pick 4 being well played, the other pools, including win, place, and show wagering are being supported by gamblers.
You can offer the best racing in the country but if no one is watching, odds are there is little wagering taking place. So why don't more tracks get racing on TVG or other ADW channels? It is availability of slots to show racing. When you have so many tracks racing at any one given time; it is impossible to get harness signals on television, especially when there is thoroughbred and even quarter horse signals available. However, if we cut back on the number of tracks racing at anyone time, we could direct more attention to those tracks which are racing, especially if wagering is concentrated on fewer tracks, possibly getting access to channels like TVG, even when the runners are racing. Our problem is when you have so many tracks racing at one time, the wagering is so diluted that it is not attractive for a channel like TVG to show the races. However, if few track are racing, the wagering levels would be worth showing the races live.
Competitive racing and placement are key for racing's survival, not the quality of racing. Unfortunately, until racing develops realistic racing schedules, it will be hard for tracks to get the placement necessary.