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By Jim Freer and Barry Unterbrink
Gulfstream Park has averaged $8.9 million a day in all-sources handle through the first 66 days of its current championship meet, putting it on track to set a record for that annual winter meet.
Gulfstream’s meet record for daily all-sources handle (total handle) was $8.6 million in 2012-2013, according to its annual news releases on handle.
The 2015-2016 meet’s wagering numbers are through Wednesday March 9 and are based on HorseracingFLA’s review of Equibase charts.
Through that date, Gulfstream averaged 9.4 starters per race. That is just under its average record field size of 9.5 for the full 2014-2015 meet.
Gulfstream’s field sizes “are again the best in the country,” P.J. Campo, the track’s general manager and vice president of racing, told us in an e-mail on Tuesday.
The Gulfstream field sizes are comparable to last season even though more races have been taken off turf this season due to wet conditions. That surface switch usually leads to at least several scratches and handle that is lower than if a race had stayed on the turf.
Breakdowns of live and off-site handle for the current meet are not readily available.
Comparative handle, field size and off-turf numbers for 66 days in Gulfstream’s 2014-2015 meet are not readily available.
Officials of the Hallandale Beach, Fla., track have told us several times that handle is ahead of last year’s pace.
They are not making predictions on handle and field sizes for the 85-day meet that will end April 3.
But Gulfstream is “pleased so far,” Campo said in his e-mail.
Our research indicates Gulfstream has a strong chance of averaging $9 million a day in handle.
It might have reached that level in 2013-2014 and in 2014-2015 if not for one-time extraneous events.
From July 2013 through June 2014, Gulfstream and neighbor Calder Casino & Race Course raced head-to-head on weekends. Calder averaged about $900,000 a day in handle that season, thus impacting Gulfstream handle.
The tracks settled their race dates disputes in June 2014. Starting in 2014 and extending through 2020, Gulfstream is leasing Calder’s track to hold 40 days of racing each October. Gulfstream calls that meet “Gulfstream Park West.”
From the start of its 2014-2015 meet through late March in 2015. Gulfstream’s simulcast signal was among those not available to the 23 tracks and their related wagering outlets that are members of the MidAtlantic Cooperative, which negotiates fees for incoming simulcasts. The tracks are in New Jersey, Pennsylvania and several nearby states.
Amid a dispute with MidAtlantic over pricing, Monarch Content Management didn’t send those outlets the signals from Gulfstream, Santa Anita, Tampa Bay Downs. Laurel Park and several other tracks. The Stronach Group owns Monarch, Gulfstream and Laurel.
Gulfstream won’t comment on how much handle it lost last season because of that dispute. But one point of reference is that Tampa Bay Downs officials last year said it cost their track about $350,000 a day in handle. By some estimates, simulcast betting on Gulfstream races is about two times larger than on Tampa Bay races.
All-sources handle is comprised of these bets made on a track’s races: live on-track; at other thoroughbred tracks and pari-mutuels; at Off-Track Betting locations; via computer and phone Advance Deposit Wagering Services; and at Nevada casinos
Through March 9, Gulfstream has taken 54 races off the turf since the meet began on Dec. 5. Most were in early December and mid January. Gulfstream has gone since Feb. 7, 21 race days, without taking a race off the turf.
The number of races taken off turf in the 2014-2015 meet is not readily available.
“We’re pleased so far with the Championship meet, especially when you consider how wet the months of December and January were and the amount of turf races we’ve lost this year compared to last,” Campo said.
“Despite that, our field sizes remain the best in the country, and the credit goes to the horsemen who have supported our Championship Meet as well as our year-round racing program,” he added. “We continue building on our big days,” he said. “Fountain of Youth weekend (Feb. 27 and Feb, 28) resulted in total handle on our product of more than $36 million, and we’re extremely excited about the April 2 Florida Derby with champion Nyquist shipping in from California to face leading Triple Crown contender Mohaymen.”
Campo added: “While we’re pleased with where we are, we’re never satisfied and truly believe there’s still ways to grow Thoroughbred racing in Florida throughout the entire year.”
Gulfstream will begin its three-month spring meet on April 6.
There are 19 race days left in the championship meet. Several factors could help determine if Gulfstream can average $9 million in handle.
*On Saturday April 2, Gulfstream will have the Florida Derby (Grade 1) and seven other stakes races. Last year on Florida Derby Day it had all-time record handle of $27,255,863. We expect that record will be broken.
* On some weekdays, handle probably will be less than $8 million. For example, it was $6,740,671 for Wednesday’s 11 races.
*A continuation of the Rainbow 6 carryover could provide a big boost.
Wednesday was the 40th straight day without the jackpot-hitting requirement of just one ticket with the winners in all six Rainbow 6 races.
The carryover heading into Thursday is $2,738,481—among the half-dozen largest for the bet that is 20-cents only.
Wagering on the Rainbow 6 has averaged more than $400,000 during the past two weeks, apparently without cannibalizing other late multi-race bets.
Saturday March 26 will be a mandatory payout day of the carryover even if there are multiple tickets with all six winners. If the carryover continues until then, there could be more than $10 million bet on the Rainbow 6.