Let's take a look at the two major winter tracks in the north-east. We have Aqueduct and Parx. Both tracks are currently offering huge purses, bigger than all the winter tracks in the south, but there are a lot more horses in the south. After scratches, the average field size at Parx today was 6.7. Aqueduct's average field size on Sunday after scratches was 6.5. Meanwhile, Gulfstream's average field size after scratches on Sunday was 9. Parx and Aqueduct both hosted 9 races on their respective days. Gulfstream held 11.
I'm not a fan of winter racing in the north, and there's several reasons for this.
Winter racing in the cold north is hard on horses, and it seems to really take it's toll on the Aqueduct inner track. If I had to choose between taking some time off or sending my horse to Parx in the winter, I'd opt to take the time off. If I had to choose between racing my $15,000 maiden claimer for a $22,000 purse at Parx or running for a $12,500 tag at Gulfstream for a $17,500 purse, I'd choose Gulfstream all the way. I'd definitely catch an easier field at Parx, but I believe that racing in a warm climate is easier on a horse and safer. It's safety first. In regards to the idea that's been frequently discussed about having a synthetic surface for the inner track at Aqueduct; yes, it would be safer than the inner dirt, but problems can arise with synthetic surfaces in cold temperatures, so is it really a great solution? I don't really think so.
Handle-wise, let's do a quick comparison. This isn't scientific, this is just an observation. On Sunday, Aqueduct's 9 race card handled a total $5,745,539, which is an average of $638,393 per race. Gulfstream handled $9,351,204 over their 11 races that day. That's an average of $850,109 per race. Significantly higher than Aqueduct. Just for comparisons sake, on Sunday October 14th, a non-special day, Belmont handled $7,609,361 on a 10 race card, with an average of $760,936 per race. This all shows that bettors are more likely to play a southern meet over Aqueduct, and that NYRA is more popular in the fall than in the winter. I could look at Parx' handle too, but why bother?
Let's picture how things would be if there were no winter racing in the north-east. More horsemen would be forced to go south, while others would opt to take a break. With more horses in the south, field size would go up and the southern tracks handle would increase. Meanwhile, the winter break would allow tracks to fuel more money from their casinos for purses, and would be able to spread that money throughout the spring, summer and fall purses, which would be a benefit for horsemen. Horses that raced in the south would be fit and ready, while the horses that took a break wouldn't have had to deal with the stress of winter racing. To me, it seems like this would be a total positive change.
So is northern winter racing really necessary? I don't think so. Not at all.
Some Other Notes
- Remington kicked off their Quarter Horse meet on Friday, with a weekend full of Futurity and Derby trials for both Paints/Appaloosas and Quarter Horses. While Friday night's card handled $395,125 and Saturday night's card handled $519,674, Sunday afternoon's card handled $276,507. Bettors are more likely to play Quarter Horses either on weekend nights or weekday afternoons when there isn't as much competition, so Remington should be smart and move their Sunday cards to the evening. In case your interested, lists of qualifiers from all of the weekends trials are available here.
- Kawartha Downs announced this evening that live racing would come to an end on March 31st, saying they couldn't come to an agreement with the province for transitional funding. I've never been to Kawartha, but based on what I've been told it's a dump. Handle-wise, it's terrible, and it would be near impossible to ever make it a sustainable track. So now it's bye-bye Windsor, Hiawatha and Kawartha for the harness people.
- Will Rogers began their meet last Monday. Their schedule is 3 days a week, Mondays, Tuesdays and Wednesdays. You know, the days a cheaper track like them will attract bettors. They aren't racing on Saturdays and trying to compete with major stakes races from Gulfstream and Santa Anita, they're racing where the money is. That, my friends, is a track that's doing it right.