Breeders Crown handle is strong despite afternoon shift

by Brett Sturman

Playing host to the Breeders Crown for the first time since 2016, this year’s edition at the Meadowlands brought with it an additional wrinkle from a handle perspective.

Due to a conflict with Monmouth Park’s “Monmouth at the Meadowlands” turf meeting, an agreement was reached where the Meadowlands would be able to race the four 2-year-old Breeders Crown nighttime on Friday as per usual, but the eight Breeders Crown races on Saturday would have to shift to the afternoon.

The choice to race Saturday afternoon wasn’t anyone’s first choice at either the Hambletonian Society or the Meadowlands, though there were some reasons in advance to be cautiously optimistic. Having to go against the premier thoroughbred signals would seem to be a downside, though the shift to a noon post time allowed for export of their signal to the European market, like Hambletonian Day.

So, how did the handle for the 13-race Breeders Crown card play out? All-source handle was $4,121,378 and will be boosted higher as handle figures from Europe come in later. By most reasonable expectations, Saturday’s daytime handle of $4,121,378 combined with handle from the 13-race Friday night card of $3,251,098 for a total of $7,372,476, should be viewed as a success.

Breaking the $4 million mark on Saturday afternoon was a massive turnaround from last Saturday’s Breeders Crown eliminations, also run in the afternoon. That day, the handle was just $1,971,951 over 12 races. It’s rare that the Meadowlands ever handles below $2 million on a Saturday, let alone during Breeders Crown eliminations. That sub $2 million total from last week was also less than the Friday night Breeders Crown elimination card that handled $2,145,473. By comparison, the last time the Meadowlands played host to the Breeders Crown in 2016, the Saturday eliminations handle was 21 per cent higher than the Friday eliminations handle. Based on those observations, it’s likely that any early cautious optimism may have given way to concern heading into this weekend, and Saturday in particular.

The weekend got off to a strong start when Friday’s 2-year-old Breeders Crown final’s card – in miserable weather conditions – handled $3,251,098, a jump of over $1 million from the prior week’s 2-year-old eliminations card. From there, as cold, windy, and wet conditions gave way to dry skies and warmer temperatures on Saturday, it seemed as if the momentum would continue.

There were early signs that the Meadowlands was going to be for a good day on Saturday; one of which was the Pick-5 wager that kicked off the card in race 1. During last week’s eliminations, handle for the wager was in the low $50,000’s for both the Friday and Saturday cards. This week, Friday’s 2-year-old Breeders Crown finals card began with a Pick-5 pool of $73,903. While that was up from last Friday, the Saturday card kicked off with nearly a $100,000 pool, $94,228 to be exact.

Based on a combination of win-place-show pool totals combined with the exacta and trifecta pools, the middle of the card saw the strongest handle. In these races, both WPS pools were over $100,000 and the exacta or trifecta pool toppled that six-figure threshold, too. Not coincidentally, the first race that occurred was in race 6 that featured the showdown between Charlie May and Perfect Sting in the 3-year-old pacing colt division. Race 7 continued with a similar showdown in the Crown final for 3-year-old pacing fillies with two horses dominating the wagering, Altar and Bella Bellini. Also strong was the trotting side of the glamour division, where Jujubee rebounded from his elimination loss to take the Crown for 3-year-old trotting colts.

Jujubee was one of four favorites that delivered on Saturday’s card, giving favorites a 50 per cent win-rate on the day. On Friday’s four Breeders Crown races, the only winning favorite was Niki Hill who crushed them in the 2-year-old pacing fillies’ division. Though favorites won half the Breeders Crown races on Saturday, the four that lost were all at short odds-on prices. It includes Atlanta, who continued to find the Breeders Crown elusive. Also, at 50-cents on the dollar in addition to Atlanta was Altar, who was set to brace for Bella Bellini when Altar broke on the lead in the stretch, as well as Lyons Sentinel who couldn’t reach against Rocknificent. The shortest priced favorite to lose was Allywag Hanover who, especially on the heels of the Lyons Sentinel loss two races prior, had a golden opportunity to make his claim for Horse of Year.

If there was one area of improvement that could have made the card even more of a success, it would have been more aggressive wagering guarantees that the Meadowlands could have offered. For its signature Pick-4 wagers offered in race 6 and again in race 10, it didn’t step outside of its normal guarantee of $50,000. With a standard guarantee that would have never been in question under any condition, the early Pick-4 which covered four Breeders Crown races handled $145,976. Even the late Pick-4 which concluded the card and included two non-Breeders Crown races still handled $89,540. I don’t know how much higher that aggressive guarantees would have driven the handle, but it would have been nice for something outside of what the usual card offers; things the Meadowlands has typically done for standout cards in the past.

Handle has been up considerably all over the place for over the past year so historical comparisons may not mean as much, but for what it’s worth this year’s Breeders Crown surpassed the total from when the Meadowlands last played host to the event in 2016. That year, the combined Friday-Saturday handle was $6,409,798. This year’s Friday night/Saturday afternoon total was $7,372,476.