By John Piassek
Thursday, May 26, 2016
Canterbury’s Opening Week Success Sets Standard for Other Tracks
On the third weekend of May, the racing world’s attention is usually diverted to Pimlico Race Course, where the Preakness Stakes is held on the third Saturday of May every day. There’s always full fields, great racing, a chance for the Triple Crown dream to continue, and plenty of people on social media joking about how they don’t have to pay attention to Pimlico for another year.
This year, however, attention was split two ways: one way, of course, towards Pimlico. The other was to Canterbury Park.
Canterbury, a small track near Minneapolis, Minnesota, made waves this spring when it announced it was making drastic takeout cuts across the board. Win, place, and show bets would now be subject to only a 15% takeout, while exotic wagers would be cut to 18%. The changes gave Canterbury the lowest blended takeout by far in the country.
For years, horseplayers have been pushing for lower takeout at tracks across the country. After all, if the track takes out less money from the pools, it increases the amount given back to winning players. This increases winnings, in turn increasing churn, handle, and revenue for the track. Opening weekend for Canterbury was going to be a big test for American racing. How well would horseplayers respond to a low-takeout track? Would they walk the walk, after talking the talk?
As it turned out, opening weekend was a smashing success:
As you can see, handle was up dramatically — a $478,057 rise over 2015, or a total increase of 31%. Per-race handle was up 26%, while off-track handle was up 39% (this was almost all out-of-state handle, too, as ADW wagering on Canterbury races is not permitted in Minnesota).
What makes it even more dramatic is that the racing at Canterbury did not improve significantly from last year. Field size was up about half a horse on Friday night, and about three-quarters of a horse on Sunday (it declined on Saturday, from 7.5 horses per race to 7.3). The average win payout declined on both Friday and Sunday; opening night saw the eight winners pay an average of $5.45.
This is not to disparage Canterbury’s racing product, which was great this weekend, and should only get better as the season progresses. Rather, it shows the power that both lower takeout and the promotion of it can have on handle. All weekend long, Canterbury made sure to let bettors know about the low takeout, to the point where it was plastered on the starting gate. Their two twitter accounts–@CanterburyPark and @CBYTrackFlak—continued to point out the takeout rates over the three days. Surfing through a racing fan’s twitter feed, especially on opening night, one was likely to encounter as much Canterbury buzz as they were Preakness news.
Now, of course, there’s still a long way to go yet this season—the meet runs until September 17, after all. But to have the handle go up 31% with nothing but lower takeout and a whole bunch of promotion is extremely promising news. More importantly, it sets a model for other tracks across the country. A track not normally on horseplayer’s radars attracted a lot of attention over their first weekend, and will continue to do so for the rest of the meet. Surely someone else would want to get in on this buzz, and we could see many more tracks replicate the Canterbury model. A sea of racetracks with low takeout and a great betting product would be a horseplayers’ oasis.
In the meantime, if you’re a bettor, or anyone who wants to improve the future of racing, make sure to check out Canterbury. They race on Thursday and Friday nights, with the first race at 7:30 PM EDT, and Saturday and Sunday afternoons, with a first post of 12:45 PM EDT. Get in the low takeout action; after all, when you bet Canterbury, you get more when you win!
John Piassek is a student at Loyola University in Maryland. He prides himself as a supporter of racing in New Jersey and Maryland. John is an aspiring race track announcer, marketer and writer. His “Mid-Atlantic Musings” column on DanonymousRacing.com focuses mostly on NJ and MD racing, ways to market them, how the states can improve their racing, and how racing should start focusing on bettor-centric marketing.
You can follow John on Twitter @Theyreoff.