John Pricci executive editor John Pricci has over three decades of experience as a thoroughbred racing public handicapper and was an award-winning journalist while at New York Newsday for 18 years.

John has covered 14 Kentucky Derbies and Preaknesses, all but three Breeders' Cups since its inception in 1984, and has seen all but two Belmont Stakes live since 1969.

Currently John is a contributing racing writer to, an analyst on the Capital Off-Track Betting television network, and co-hosts numerous handicapping seminars. He resides in Saratoga Springs, New York.

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Tuesday, October 17, 2017

Where Players Bet Matters

Despite excellent racing and full-court-press promoting by TVG’s wall-to-wall coverage, the message being sent by boycotting horseplayers is being heard loud and clear.

Having said that, I predict that today’s handle will be up over last year’s, thanks to a six-figure Pick Six carryover, a pool that features $1 wagering and not the standard $2 in non-jackpot scenarios.

But that, too, is beside the point.

While unofficial handle at racing’s other top tier venues, Belmont Park and Santa Anita is up significantly, Keeneland’s is down considerably by comparison for the period of OCT 6 through OCT 15.

Courtesy of industry consultant Michael Antoniades, Belmont Park handle for eight racing days was $71,531,890 compared to 64,032,440 year over year, an increase of $7,499,450 on 75 races each year.

Santa Anita handle over the same seven-day period over 62 races, the same number as last year’s was $63,013,409 vs $56,274,507 year over year, an increase of $6,738,902.

At Keeneland, meanwhile, which had the same eight racing days as in 2016, handle decreased by $6,228, 353 going from 2016’s $71,484,762 to this year’s $65,256,409.

A coincidence, I think not. While the Lexington oval suffered through one horrible weather day—sloppy and off the turf—it also set a fall record for attendance this past Saturday of 29,000-plus fans.

Another metric is also telling. Belmont Park’s handle per race showed an average gain of nearly $100,000 per, while Santa Anita’s per race handle increased by almost $109,000.

At Keeneland it was the opposite, as per race handle slid from a 2016 average of $940,588 to $847,485 this year, with one more race. Two Bigs + $100K. One Big -$93K, give or take.

And there’s one more coincidence to consider, if you will. Last year, racing from OCT 7 through OCT 16, Keeneland was the per race handle leader at $940,588; Santa Anita’s was $907,653, Belmont’s $853,765.

In 2017, Keeneland’s handle went from first to third among the Big Three: $847K+ vs. Belmont’s $953K+ and Santa Anita’s $1M+.

The numbers are far from definitive, of course, but the message is clear: Where Horseplayers Bet Their Money Matters.

There also is an early indication that while compliance has been spotty at best, there may be some indication that the new tax laws might be making a difference when applied to boxcar payouts.

Had there not been a boycott in place, there is reason to believe that Keeneland could have been the biggest beneficiary with, on balance, their larger and highly competitive talent-laden fields.

There are other factors at play, as there are anytime comparisons such as this one are made. How it all turns out in the end is still anyone’s guess. Keeneland will continue to race through month’s end.

In the meantime, however, the boycott has made a difference.

While the desired goal being that takeout rates return to its levels of just this spring, that is unlikely to occur. If any track is in a position to take a haircut, it’s Keeneland.

But this is where greed can be a good thing; no one likes losing money. Just ask the closest horseplayer.

HALLANDALE BEACH, FL, October 17, 2017

Written by John Pricci

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