Welcome to this week’s edition of America’s Best Racing’s Main Track. Each week in this spot we present the most meaningful story of the past seven days, detailing a story that stands out because of its importance or perhaps the emotional response it generates.
Looking ahead, if you believe there’s a story this week that should be featured in next week’s edition of the Main Track, let us know by tweeting it to @ABRLive using the hashtag #ABRMainTrack.
As for this week’s story, it involves a critically important closing day at Monmouth Park.
While the end of a racing meet is usually a time for reflection on the events of the past few months, Sunday’s final card of the 2018 meet at Monmouth Park also ushered the dawn of a new era.
For on the day when live racing at the Jersey Shore ended until next spring, it also marked the first Sunday at Monmouth with wagering on NFL regular season games.
The racing figures were disappointing as average daily attendance dropped 2.7 percent from 9,234 to 8,986 and the average daily all-sources handle slipped 2.1 percent from $3,457,379 to $3,383,872. All in all, those numbers were not bad considering the many rainy days that kept fans away and a soaked grass course that led to 80 of 231 turf races being switched to the main track. Yet when you consider how sharply business has declined at Monmouth in recent years, any decline is worrisome.
Which is where sports betting comes in. Thanks to Monmouth’s victory in the Supreme Court, allowing New Jersey and, in time, other states to conduct sports betting, the Oceanport, N.J., track now has an alternative form of revenue that can hopefully spark a revival of fortunes for racing in the Garden State.
Although Monmouth has been taking sports bets since May, the start of the NFL season was viewed as a watershed moment when huge amount of cash will be plunked down on the Giants, Jets, and dozens of prop bets, and expectations were definitely met.
A story in the New York Post reported lines of 20 or more people waiting to place wagers on Sunday afternoon.
Yet with sports betting, the amount of wagering is not as important as how well Monmouth and its sports betting partner, William Hill, book those wagers and turn a profit.
In time, numbers will be released about Monmouth’s win, aka its profit from the bets it booked, but they can be twisted and interpreted to suit anyone’s needs.
A more important indicator of how sports betting will impact racing at Monmouth will be seen next year when Monmouth’s 2019 season is announced. At that point, if there are more racing days, enhanced purses, and an increase in quantity and quality of the horses at the track, then the proof will be in the pudding about the impact and benefits of sports betting.
Yet if it’s 2018 all over again, with a rash of small fields dominated by odds-on favorites from trainer Jorge Navarro, then maybe Monmouth and other racetracks need to rethink how it views sports betting.
In either case, what happens at Monmouth in the near future needs to be closely monitored by other racetracks so that they can learn from what is being done right and wrong at the New Jersey track.
Handling sports betting properly is of vital importance to racetracks and that point was hammered home last week at a Keeneland symposium on sports wagering and its impact on horse racing which was sponsored by BloodHorse and the Breeders’ Cup.
A wide variety of topics were discussed about the challenges racing faces from sports betting and how it can address them, and clearly at this point in time, the more conversation that goes on within the industry, the better it will be for everyone involved.
Last Sunday was the first week of sports betting on NFL regular season games and without question many lessons will be offered for Monmouth and the racing industry as the season progresses through the Super Bowl.
And for now, we can only hope racing will learn from them.
Here are some of the other noteworthy stories that made for a lively week in the U.S. Thoroughbred racing industry: