Small track thinks big with new 2013 schedule


The news release from Presque Isle Downs didn't seem very important. The Erie, Pa., track has proposed changing its 2013 racing schedule to Sundays through Thursdays.

That would eliminate Friday and Saturday racing to run on Monday and Tuesday instead. As a former racing executive, I was happy to see somebody at a smaller track thinking big.

The trend in racing today is to run fewer dates and to focus on the weekends. The weekends being when most customers are available to attend live racing.

However, the reality of the horse racing business is a vast majority of the betting handle comes from simulcasting, nearly all of it from out of state. Thus, a market like ours in Las Vegas provides incredibly valuable simulcast money for the nation's tracks.

Which leads me to this point: About 75 percent of the racing product now is offered from Thursdays to Sundays. That's where the major circuits have reduced their schedule to four days a week. Now, Mondays, Tuesdays and Wednesdays are nearly barren of product.

A common sense move for a second-level track, like Presque Isle Downs, is to alter its schedule and run on days when there is less competition. It is the proverbial "big fish in a small pond" theory.

It is the same reason ESPN, during college football season, schedules many smaller conferences to play games on Tuesdays, Wednesdays and Thursdays. The schools get paid while gaining a larger audience.

A snapshot of the January 2013 live racing calendar points out the lopsidedness of the weekly racing schedule.

On a typical Saturday in January, there are, on average, 18 racetracks running in the U.S. On most Mondays and Tuesdays, barring holidays, there are between two and five racetracks open.

Turf Paradise in Phoenix was one of the first tracks to recognize this hole in the marketplace more than 20 years ago. They have settled into a schedule that maximizes live on-track play on Fridays and Saturdays, while catering to simulcast money on Mondays, Tuesdays and Wednesdays.

Retired coaching great Bill Parcells liked to say, "You are what your record says you are." Thus, when I see smaller racetracks trying to compete with Aqueduct, Fair Grounds, Gulfstream Park and Santa Anita on the weekends, I wonder what's the point. The high quality of racing at the major tracks is tough to buck.

An amateur economist would have a field day studying the horse racing product and determining why it is so self-defeating.

Most of the inventory is offered over four days. Then on those four days, it is maddening to see how many tracks have overlapping post times for many of its races.

Bottom line: I suspect there is a lot of betting handle being left on the table every day with so many inefficiencies in the racing marketplace.

Richard Eng's horse racing column is published Friday in the Las Vegas Review-Journal. He can be reached at rich_eng@hotmail.com. Follow him on Twitter: @richeng4propick.

 

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