BILL SHOEMAKER’S FINAL RIDE : Shoemaker Finishes Fourth, but Track Is Big Winner : Betting: Santa Anita gets fifth-largest handle ever. For much of fifth race, it comes $2 at a time.
Bill Shoemaker’s last ride was supposed to be a sentimental tribute to racing’s all-time winningest jockey.
However, sentiment has its price.
And for most of the 64,573 at Santa Anita on Saturday afternoon, the price was $2.
George Haines, the track’s pari-mutuel manager, estimated that 40% of the win tickets that were bought on Patchy Groundfog, Shoemaker’s ride, were for just $2. It’s presumed that people bought those tickets as a souvenir with no intention of cashing them.
In fact, one man went to the betting windows an hour before Shoemaker’s final race and requested 5,000 $2 win tickets. The track could not meet that demand on such short notice and just punched tickets until the race started.
Shoemaker’s fourth-place finish also was costly to the state. If souvenir hunters had kept their tickets, the state would have pocketed about $184,000. A winning ticket would have paid $3.20.
Monies from unclaimed tickets go back to the California Horse Racing Board and are supposed to be used for research. Last year, the state made $1.7 million from unclaimed tickets, although only $350,000 went to research. The rest of the money went to a general fund.
The money bet on the Shoemaker race was easily the most bet on any race on Saturday. The track had the fifth largest handle ever, $13,124,004, of which 17% was from the Shoemaker race. Normally, only 12% of the handle comes from the fifth race.
The only races where more money traditionally is bet are the Santa Anita Handicap and the Kentucky Derby. In fact, $291,786 of the $594,697 (about 49%) bet to win in the fifth race was on Shoemaker. However, Shoemaker captured only 34% of the place pool and 34% of the show pool. In total, $2,184,000 was bet on the fifth race, of which $1,213,724 (56%) included Shoemaker in the bet.
Before the program started there was concern that a minus pool would be created by people betting on Shoemaker. With a minus pool, the track has to pay out more than it collects. The state requires that every bet must return at least 5 cents on the dollar, making the minimum payout $2.10.
Advance betting had Shoemaker at odds of 1 to 20 (a $2.10 return). However, 24 minutes before post time the odds were 1 to 5 ($2.40) and stayed there for seven minutes. The odds changed to 2 to 5 ($2.80) for three minutes followed by 1 to 2 ($3.00) for three minutes before hitting 3 to 5 for the final 11 minutes of betting.
Public handicappers estimate that Patchy Groundfog would have gone off at odds of about 5 to 2 ($7.00) had Shoemaker not been making his final ride on the horse.
There was little doubt that Shoemaker was the star attraction on Saturday. After his final race, it was estimated that nearly 13,000 people left the track.
Perhaps a Shoemaker victory would have changed all of that. But, still, it did little to change the financial windfall the day was to Santa Anita.
Track officials claim that promotional expenses were only slightly greater than they would have been normally this weekend. Usually, the estimated $200,000 to $250,000 that was spent on promotion would have been directed toward today’s Strub Stakes.
Parking and concessions easily covered those expenses and the reported $100,000 Shoemaker was paid to let the track honor him. The track also netted an extra $250,000 from the increased handle (the track gets 5% of all money bet) over a usual Saturday and $30,000 that ABC paid to televise the event.
Santa Anita is hoping the day has a residual effect, causing people to return to the track. But, many of the people in the infield had to wait 20 minutes a race to place a bet.
“There is nothing we can do on a day like this,” Haines said. “Most of the lines were long, especially in the infield. It’s very difficult to service those people. We just can’t get enough mutuel clerks.”
Santa Anita has 840 mutuel machines, of which 75 do not need an attendant. The track employs about 500 on most Saturdays but increased the total to 690 on Saturday. That still left 75 machines that couldn’t be used because of a scarcity of mutuel clerks.
Saturday wasn’t the first time Santa Anita has had such a single-focused betting race. Spectacular Bid often caused minus pools when he ran at Santa Anita in 1980.
But, the most recent time was on March 29, 1986 for the San Luis Rey Stakes. Symboli Rudolph, called the John Henry of Japan, was running and attracted an enormous amount of Japanese fans.
According to Haines it created a large overlay, a situation in which horses are running at much longer odds than their form indicates. And, much like Saturday, the prohibitive favorite ran out of the money.
But on this Saturday, the only things out of the money were the people betting on Bill Shoemaker.
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