By Tim Bojarski, for Batavia Downs
Although the final day of racing was canceled on Saturday (Dec. 14) due to bad weather conditions, the clubhouse that night was still sold out and the 400 or so patrons enjoyed Christmas music instead of race calls. But that was the norm at Batavia Downs in 2019; happy customers having fun at the races.
Indicators for every aspect of the racing product pointed toward positive territory and in several areas showed record breaking performances.
Betting-wise the on track handle was up 12.2 percent, driven by a 5-percent increase in attendance, the export signal was up 24 percent and Western Regional Off Track Betting (WROTB) revenue was up 5.3 percent. All tolled, wagering from all sources was up a combined 19.9 percent and provided the highest total handle at the track and the top three highest single night handles since WROTB reopened the Downs in 2002.
The total handle was also $1.4 million higher than last year and all of this was accomplished with three fewer race days on the schedule.
“Our customers came out in force, both live and at simulcast to support us all year and we couldn’t be more grateful to them,” said Todd Haight, director/general manager of Live Racing at Batavia Downs. “We gave them some of the best racing in the state this year and they validated it by betting us the whole season.”
There were several reasons for the increases and they were all primarily driven by the eight legs of the New York Sire Stakes (NYSS) culminating in the $1.8 million Night of Champions (NOC) finals in September. Along with the highest overnight purses ever offered at the track, Batavia Downs dolled out more than $8.1 million in total purses this year and that drew top horses and horsemen from across North America all year, providing great betting opportunities for the customers.
The Downs also took full advantage of the Strategic Wagering Pool sponsored by the United States Trotting Association (USTA) and offered enhanced funds for exotic wagers that also provided free program pages for half the card on those nights. Aside from the NYSS NOC which was the highest handle in the tracks history under WROTB ownership, the track saw its highest total nightly handles on cards where the Strategic Wagering Pools were offered.
“We had 14 Strategic Wagering opportunities during the course of the season and every one paid off," Haight said. "Many thanks to USTA Director Chris Schick and Social Media Director Michael Carter for their assistance with these wagers."
Two other factors for the increase include the simulcast department doing a great job marketing the live signal from Batavia and picking up many new customers this year which drove the export numbers and the track’s group sales department who brought in 31 percent more parties and events to the clubhouse than ever before and enhanced the live handle.
“A lot of the people we see during live racing were introduced to the sport by attending our live concert series over the summer," Haight said. "They actually walk across the track and ask questions about horse racing and then come back when the meet starts to see it. It’s really been a good selling point for us and we’ve made many new customers as a result.”
On the track, Billy Davis Jr. won his first driving title at Batavia Downs in 2019 by averaging two wins a night for the entire meet. His 131 wins, 102 seconds and 83 thirds out of 629 starts earned him a Universal Driver Rating (UDR) of .342 for the meet and $861,336 in purses.
Jim Morrill Jr. was second with 79 wins, 56 seconds and 37 thirds with $921,527 in earnings and Dave McNeight III was third with 78 wins, 61 seconds and 70 thirds with $543,064 in purses.
On the training side, Jim Clouser Jr. also won his first Batavia Downs training title after scoring 51 wins, 29 seconds and 39 thirds out of 219 starts for a UTR of .366 and $361,413 in earnings. His stable members finished in the money 54 percent of the time.
Finishing second in the trainer race was Maria Rice who scored 43 wins, 31 seconds and 21 thirds out of 190 starts and earned $358,234 in purses with the legendary Gerry Sarama finishing third while making 246 starts with 32 wins, 40 seconds and 32 thirds with $256,619 in earnings.
Live racing returns to the oldest lighted harness racing track in America on July 22, pending approval from the New York State Gaming Commission.