Get a Handle - by Dan Liebman

The single most significant number relative to a racetrack’s business is handle. Pure and simple. It not only fuels the second-most-important number—purses—but is clearly reflective of the acceptance of a track’s racing product by the wagering public.

In August 2007, Churchill Downs Inc. announced it would no longer publicly release handle figures for its four racetracks because it did not consider them an important metric of how the company as a whole is performing. Instead, it would discuss its complete financial reports during its quarterly earnings conference calls.

That decision, and the logic behind it, is ludicrous. But now comes an even more preposterous decision.

The Jockey Club Information Systems has discontinued providing The Blood-Horse handle numbers provided it by Equibase, making it more difficult to report racetrack’s meet-to-meet numbers.

Equibase was founded because, prior to its existence, racing’s data was collected by Daily Racing Form, a privately-owned enterprise. Racing wanted to collect and own its data, as it should.

Equibase is a joint venture of the Thoroughbred Racing Associations, an organization comprised of racetracks, and The Jockey Club. To get the business off the ground, The Jockey Club provided $3.6 million in 1990, and the collection of data began the next year. Today, countless tracks provide their fans programs displaying Equibase past performances.

For several years after Equibase came into existence, it had chart callers at racetracks along with those from Daily Racing Form. This meant each race had two data collectors, which caused discrepancies in information. In 1998, the two reached an agreement for Equibase to collect the data; Daily Racing Form shut down its track and field operations.

Until now, there never appeared to have been a conflict of interest between the racetracks and Equibase. But obviously with TRA member tracks owning half the company, it can exercise leverage over what data is made available.

Equibase and Jockey Club officials claim there is a distinction, with racing information being data it collects and handle being data supplied by racetracks. In fact, the tracks are still supplying handle figures, but The Blood-Horse, rather than obtaining those numbers through a previously provided tool, would now, it is told, have to add the figures from race charts.

The Blood-Horse news story in August 2007 announcing Churchill’s change in policy contained comments from company spokeswoman Julie Koenig Loignon. According to the story, though Churchill would not release the numbers, Koenig Loignon noted the figures are public information and available through other sources, such as Equibase and state racing commissions.

They are available from Equibase, if one wants to add up numbers from hundreds of charts. As for state racing commissions, they do not get the information in a timely manner.

Handle numbers are important to handicappers wishing to see the size of pools they have wagered into. But they also are important to owners, trainers, and breeders who wish to see how a track’s business is doing. And they are important to the media, which not only has a duty but an obligation to report statistics and trends to the industry.

In the last week, numbers were released by several racetracks following the close of meets, among them major players such as Saratoga and Del Mar, and a smaller track, Evangeline Downs. Others also routinely provide similar figures.

Tracks that release such information, understanding the industry’s right to know, should be applauded. Those that do not, such as those owned by CDI, despite being a public company and government regulated, should have a board of directors that insists it do what is right.

Equibase and The Jockey Club Information Systems should realize they are not helping the industry by their decision. 

Recent Posts

More Blogs