Considering a percentage of sports fans discovered the joys of betting horse races from home last year as racing continued when some other sports halted activity during the COVID-19, I'm looking forward to seeing if racing can build on that opportunity during the excitement of the Road to the Kentucky Derby season.
As racing tries to retain those new fans and add more this spring, I like that so many tracks have shifted to the big day approach. As fans tune in to see this year's Kentucky Derby Presented by Woodford Reserve (G1) take shape, they'll also have the opportunity to see top horses in other divisions.
While some core fans who wager a few dollars every day may lament the loading of so many top events on select Saturdays, I suspect such bonanzas will play well with fans who are still picking up the sport.
Asking new fans to spend a few hours with racing on a Saturday seems more likely to get a positive response when a track rolls out top race after top race.
Gulfstream Park will provide that type of menu Feb. 27 with the $300,000 Fasig-Tipton Fountain of Youth Stakes (G2) closing out a 14-race card that will feature nine stakes with purses exceeding $1.1 million. It will be the seventh straight year that the Fountain of Youth has featured the big-day approach at Gulfstream.
Way back when--actually, in 2014--the Fountain of Youth was just one of three stakes on the card. That had been the norm for years. Ten years ago the Fountain of Youth card featured just three stakes. And 20 years ago the Fountain of Youth was the lone stakes on the card!
Granted, to fully understand the advantages and disadvantages of the big day approach would require study of how much the days that lose those stakes see drops in handle; just looking at the Saturday race days in question suggest the big-day approach is working.
Handle for the 2020 Fountain of Youth Day at Gulfstream--featuring nine stakes--reached $36,522,389. That is up 76% from the most recent non-big race day approach for the Fountain of Youth in 2014 when handle was at $20,756,939. The 2011 and 2001 handle figures were similar at $14,910,825 and $14,591,138, respectively.
On the track,
Greatest Honour is the 9-5 morning-line favorite for the Fountain of Youth off his easy victory in the Jan. 30 Holy Bull Stakes (G3) at Gulfstream. Greatest Honour is trained by Shug McGaughey, who also trained the most recent Fountain of Youth winner to go on to win the Kentucky Derby in Orb, who won both races in 2013.
The Fountain of Youth is the second Road to the Kentucky Derby race to offer 85 points this season (50-20-10-5 for the top four places), following the Risen Star Stakes Presented by Lamarque Ford (G2) Feb. 13 at Fair Grounds Race Course & Slots. The Risen Star also featured a big day approach, with six stakes races.
This column originally appeared in the Feb. 26 BloodHorse Daily where it is sponsored by Gainesway. The Daily also includes points standings and a schedule of upcoming points races.