WHAT ARE THE TIER 1 RACETRACKS IN THE UNITED STATES?

At The Jockey Club Roundtable on August 12, 2018, the organization’s President and Chief Operating Officer, James Gagliano, reported on wagering trends.  He remarked:

“…underneath the overall steadiness in Thoroughbred handle has been some significant shifts.  There’s been a bifurcation of handle performance across tracks.  McKinsey segmented all U.S. Thoroughbred tracks into three tiers based on total handle, the number of graded stakes, and purses per day.

From 2011 to 2013, Tier 1 tracks have increased handle from 5.6 billion to 6.8 billion, or growth of 3% per year.  Tier 2 and Tier 3 tracks have declined from 5.1 billion in 2011 to 4.2 billion, or decline of 3% per year.

So what is causing this?  There are two factors at play here.  The first is a reduction in races.  Tier 1 tracks have slightly increased the number of races, from 9,375 to 9,517.  But the number of races in Tier 2 tracks has declined significantly, from 42,731 to 34,459.  Less racing translates to lower handle.  But that’s not the whole story.

It appears that handle is shifting to the highest quality races.  Tier 1 tracks have 82% of all graded stakes races, and over the past seven years graded stakes races have been growing handle per race at 4%.   At the same time, handle per race has been declining in other types of races, particularly claiming races.”

Another presenter, Ian Highet, Secretary-Treasurer of The Jockey Club, said that twelve racetracks comprise the Tier 1 referred to by Mr. Gagliano.  However, nowhere in the presentation were the dozen tracks identified.

Following are seven U. S. racetracks that I personally would unequivocally describe as belonging in Tier 1.  Whereas McKinsey & Company quantified Tier 1 via “total handle, the number of graded stakes, and purses per day,” my more subjective criterion was simply “perceived status” among informed racing fans.

Belmont (NY)
Churchill Downs (KY)
Del Mar (CA)
Gulfstream Park (FL)
Keeneland (KY)
Santa Anita (CA)
Saratoga (NY)

Here are three additional racetracks that I would include in Tier 1, but with not as much conviction as the first seven:

Aqueduct (NY)
Arlington Park (IL)
Monmouth Park (NJ)

Finally, two racetracks round out my top twelve, but are admittedly debatable:

Fair Grounds
Oaklawn Park

The high-quality racing at Kentucky Downs merits consideration but the track does not offer enough race days to be in the top 12.

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