As the rest of the sporting world looks on in envy, the previously sidelined sport of horse racing is coming to the fore – and at an incredible rate.
Following the suspension of the major professional and college sports in mid-March, horse racing has hogged all the limelight in satisfying a national appetite for betting markets. It is this kind of progress that the sport now needs to maintain.
Why horse racing is different to other sports
As humans can contract and pass on the novel coronavirus at an alarming level, the suspension of human-to-human sport was the only feasible outcome to the pandemic.
However, horses cannot contract the COVID-19 strain that has seen over 100,000 Americans lose their lives.
And, horse racing’s expansive track facilities and the small number of people needed to operate the tracks has enabled the sport to hold meets that were largely an online betting set-up and spectatorless anyway.
The decline in the number of races and race days did lead to a decline in the mutual wagering handle from April 2019 to the same period in April 2020. But, the average wagering per race day ballooned significantly – the same period increased by 176% to $7.5 million.
A small collection of tracks including Gulfstream Park and Fonner Park – amongst others – proved vital to this number as punters took advantage of offers and promotions.
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Where horse racing is heading
Horse racing still holds an industry-wide advantage on professional team sports with its daily business being able to restart quicker despite local shutdowns.
Of course, with the one annual period of the calendar year that horse racing takes precedence being disrupted, the sport has lost out, but in many ways it is an extreme winner.
The case of coming back later is also important, and with the Belmont Stakes race of the Triple Crown coming on a day when it’s the only sport in town is an incredible piece of business.
Converting people from casual fans to fans who will watch and wager is the be all and end all for the sport and such an initiative is the right way to go about it.
The first day of the delayed Churchill Downs – held in May – totalled a 183% increase in handle as compared to the same night in 2019, and this time without fans. That more than suggests that the appetite for horse racing is growing.
Horse racing to fight for sporting exposure?
Sport betting itself is poised to grow exponentially in the near future, with the growth expected to be nearly $140 billion through to 2024.
In a way, with horse racing’s sad and steady decline in the States, the lockdown didn’t really turn many people away – simply because there were not that many to turn away in the first place.
Instead, as people frantically search for live sport, horse racing has been put back on the map once more. It is now down to the sport itself to maintain that interest once some kind of normality resumes, through advertisement, betting offers and entertainment on show.