official 2013 racing schedule on their website. As expected, they're using their standard schedule of Wednesday, Friday, and Saturday night racing, with occasional Holiday afternoon cards replacing Wednesdays. Nothing surprising.
After the end of last year's meet, DRF reported that handle was down 8% from 2011. In the comment section of that article, someone named Rob Nokes commented that Assiniboia should "takeover Turf Paradise's time slot on Monday and Tuesday." This made me consider how the day affects handle. We see it at smaller tracks like Turf Paradise or Sunland all the time, weekend cards draw modest handles while weekday cards, specifically Mondays and Tuesdays, draw very good sized handles. Why does this happen? Simple, there's little to no competition from major tracks, but serious bettors still want to bet, so they'll play one of the smaller tracks. Will Rogers Downs has figured this out, racing on a Monday, Tuesday, Wednesday schedule. So, how does the day affect handle at Assiniboia Downs?
I decided to take some time and do the math. I went on Equibase and looked at the full card charts for all 60 days of racing last year and organized them into a chart, dividing them into columns of Wednesdays, Fridays, Saturdays, and Holidays. The results weren't surprising.
In 2012, there were 12 Wednesday cards, which handled a total of $1,874,316, which is an average of $156,193/card. There were 20 Friday cards, but one was cancelled after 4 races so I took it out of the Friday column. The 19 full Friday cards handled a total of $2,134,054, an average of $112,318. There were 20 Saturday cards, handling a total of $2,526,429, averaging $126,321. Finally, there were 8 Holiday cards, which gathered $1,624,454 in handle, an average of $203,056. With the addition of the $44,717 handled on the 1 cancelled card, this equals a total of $8,203,970. Please note that the official total is $8,198,785, which means I had a typo somewhere in my numbers equating to me being $5,185 too high, but it's not that large a difference so I'll live with it.
The total average handle/card in 2012, subtracting the cancelled card, was $138,292. This shows that Wednesdays, the weekday cards, and Holidays both consistently perform above average while Fridays and Saturdays, the weekend cards, both consistently perform below average. So why does ASD insist on keeping weekend racing? Track attendance. While Assiniboia doesn't report official track attendance totals, it's common sense that Friday and Saturday nights will draw a bigger crowd than a Wednesday night.
But we're in the era of simulcasting. Assiniboia needs to start playing to the simulcast market, where the real money lies. Much as it's nice to have a large crowd out and enjoying your races, you have to go where the money is, and the money is in simulcast betting. You need to get your signal out as much as you can and race when you'll get the most possible attention. Let's say Assiniboia moves their Friday cards, which are their worst performing, to Tuesdays, keeping Saturdays just to be fair to weekend fans who like to come out to the track. On a Friday night, specifically September 14th, Assiniboia has to compete with Emerald Downs, Charles Town, Los Alamitos, Mountaineer, Northlands, Prairie Meadows, Presque Isle, Remington, and Turfway. Had Assiniboia had that card on Tuesday, September 11th, their competition that night would have been Mountaineer and Presque Isle. On Tuesday night, Mountaineer dominates the night market, while Presque Isle is more of a late afternoon/early evening card. So on that Tuesday, Assiniboia would have had 22% of the competition they had on that Friday night. When you deduct 88% of your competition, handle goes up. Maybe I'm crazy, but that seems correct to me.
Assiniboia has other problems. Field size in 2012 was only 6.9. Not quite as bad as Beulah, but it's small. Takeouts at the Downs are ridiculously high, 26% on Exactors and Doubles, and 29% on Tris, Supers, Pick 3s and Pick 5s. They took a positive step in 2012, lowering their Pick 4 takeout from 29% to a low 15%. However, a low takeout on one bet isn't enough to lure serious bettors when they're still being soaked ludicrous amounts on all their other wagers. There are also issues with the Manitoba Government and the Red River Exhibition, but I don't know a lot about that and I'm not going to talk about it. All I know is that there's a possibility of Standardbred racing coming to the Downs.
Does Assiniboia have a smart racing schedule? No. Can it be fixed? Yes. Would it create a positive change? Absolutely. We can only hope that the Downs figures this out and acts accordingly. If so, it would be a positive for bettors, horsemen, and Manitoba racing as a whole.