By Bill Finley
Because of the pandemic in 2020, six-race cards on Fridays and a run of rainy weather to start this year's meet, apples-to-apples, year-over-year handle comparisons aren't easy to come by at Monmouth. But all indications are that the Jersey Shore track has gotten off to a poor start, and that raises an important question–are bettors staying away because of the new rules that prohibit whipping?
Sunday's card was the first of the meet where all the scheduled races were run on the turf and there was not an abundance of scratches. Despite those favorable conditions, Monmouth handled only $3,333,043 Sunday. There were 11 races and 86 betting interests. Because of COVID-19, there was no racing on that date in 2020. In 2019, $4,317,739 was wagered on a 12-race card that consisted of 94 betting interests. Based on the raw, all-sources total handle for the days, handle in 2021 was off by 22.8% from 2019. Per-race betting fell from $359,811 in 2019 to $303,003 this year, a difference of 15.8%.
“I'm betting a little bit less on Monmouth, about 25% less than normal,” said Jersey-based horseplayer Philip Miller. “There are a number of factors. There have been small fields and the jockey colony isn't great, though it got better once Paco [Lopez] started riding. But, yes, the whips have something to do with it. Everybody is trying to go to the front because they think closers are at a disadvantage without the whip. I don't like that. There are some horses that have a good turn of foot and they don't need the whip. But there are others that really need to be ridden hard and they aren't going to run as well without the whip.”
Dennis Drazin, who heads the management company that operates the track, said it was too early to reach any conclusions regarding how the whip ban may be affecting handle.
“I think the handle numbers were mainly a reflection of the weather,” he said in an email. “Too much rain. Inability to utilize the turf. It's premature to discuss to what extent the new whip rule may effect handle.”
Sunday's numbers continued a troubling pattern for Monmouth, which has struggled throughout the meet to keep up with past years when it comes to handle.
On the second day of the meet and the first day of the long Memorial Day weekend, Monmouth handled $2,941,677 on a 12-race card. On the same date in 2019, $5,891,308 was bet on a 13-race card. While the races were washed off the turf throughout the first week of Monmouth racing this year, it seems like a stretch to suggest that the lack of grass racing and a few small fields were solely responsible for a decline in handle of nearly $3 million.
On the following day, a Sunday, $2,645,700 was wagered on an 11-race card, $1,278,795 less than what was bet on the same date in 2019. On Memorial Day, Monmouth ran nine races and handled $2,434,241. On the Memorial Day 2019 card, there were 12 races and a handle of $3,628,955.
As was the case during the opening week, the Monmouth races were dominated by favorites. Fifteen of the 28 races run last weekend were won by the favorites and, for the meet, favorites are 29-for-55 (50.8%).
Veteran Jose C. Ferrer leads all riders with nine wins, but his lead probably won't hold up for long. Paco Lopez made his first Monmouth appearance of the year on Saturday and has already won six races from 17 mounts. Joe Bravo, who has won 13 Monmouth riding titles, has refused to ride at the meet because of the whip issue and has said that he will ride at the upcoming Del Mar meet.