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The Lion Of Winter Roars Louder

By Kent H. Stirling
May 28, 2013
Every year, as the self-proclaimed Czar of Winter Simulcasting, I track the amount of interstate wagering on each track’s simulcast signal.  I then take this number and divide it by the number of races that were run in order to generate these wagering numbers.  This gives me the average wagering per race which indicates the most popular wagering signal on that day.  For the last fourteen years, the most popular signal to wager on in the winter has always been Gulfstream.
Why do I do this you might ask?  Well, back in 2000, a number of racing writers were reporting about the decline in quality of racing at Gulfstream Park.  I was curious as to where the best racing was taking place if it wasn’t at Gulfstream.  It seemed that tracking the wagering by race would lead me to the signal most wagered on which would supposedly be where the best racing was taking place.  My little experiment proved that Gulfstream indeed had the best racing in North America during the winter.  It further displayed that Gulfstream also had the best signal, and therefore, the best racing on each and every day of the race week.
In the early years of this experiment, The Fairgrounds was a very formidable exporter of its signal and actually finished second to Gulfstream.  Then the Fairgrounds signal began to slide and finished behind Aqueduct and Santa Anita.  CDI, Churchill Downs Inc., then bought the Fairgrounds and the signal recovered slightly for a year or two before CDI pulled the plug on any of their tracks giving out handle or attendance numbers to the media, unless, of course, the numbers were really good.  With no published wagering numbers available from the Fairgrounds, I dropped them from my wagering study and replaced them with Tampa Bay Downs.
A few rules were established by the Czar of Winter Racing with the most notable being that if at least two tracks didn’t operate on the same day, no simulcast numbers were used for that day.  The other rule is this study begins when Gulfstream Park opens and ends when Gulfstream closes.  There is one exception to that rule, and that is that Arkansas Derby day is included in the study as an extra Saturday for Oaklawn Park.  This is because it is Oaklawn’s biggest day, but it is run after three of the other tracks have already closed, including Gulfstream.
Historically, the tracks studied always ran five day race weeks, save for Gulfstream which ran 6 day weeks during half of their race meet.  Now only three of these tracks run five day race weeks and one struggles to do that, Aqueduct, but that is solely weather related as it’s not easy to run during northern winters.  Oaklawn and Santa Anita have opted for four day race weeks, and while it has seemed to help Santa Anita’s simulcast numbers it seems to have been flat for Oaklawn.
As you can see by looking at the accompanying simulcast chart, Gulfstream was a clear winner on simulcast wagering per race on every race day of the week.  Mondays were both holidays and were in a week were Wednesdays were dark.  The thing that holds true every year is the tremendous amount of wagering on Gulfstream’s signal on a Saturday.  Gulfstream clearly separates itself from the pack on racing’s most popular and profitable race day.  I believe this is the first time I have had a track handle over a million dollars a race as Gulfstream did.  The Gulfstream handle per race was a quarter of a million dollars more than even its sister track, Santa Anita, which finished second on Saturdays.
Fridays have made vast strides as a popular day to wager on simulcasts to the point where they now threaten Sunday’s as the second best wagering day of the week.
Santa Anita has replaced Aqueduct as the second most wagered on winter simulcast signal for the last three or four years, but she doesn’t seem able to close any significant ground on her big sister, Gulfstream, which just keeps stretching her lead every year.