University of Louisville Equine Industry Program, Analytics Brief 2018-02

Modeling the Determinants of Handle: An Analysis of Woodbine Thoroughbred Racing Data

Steven S. Vickner, PhD
Associate Professor

Steve Koch
Executive Director, Safety & Integrity Alliance, NTRA

September 28, 2018

Using data for 1,515 races over 165 race days from the 2011 Thoroughbred racing season at the Woodbine Racetrack, variability in all sources handle per race was explained as a function of field size, field quality and race conditions, race distance, surface, weather, and an array of seasonality control variables. Several robust and actionable insights emerged:

  • Field size proved again to be the leading determinant of per race handle. However, each additional runner in the starting gate provided less wagering increase than the runner loaded just prior; this is diminishing marginal returns per entry (Figure 1).
  • Restricted race conditions (i.e., race entries restricted to Ontario-Sired eligible runners) had a negative impact on handle. However, the larger average field sizes in those races did offset this effect consistent with prior studies.
  • Diminishing marginal returns from field size and the negative effect of restricted races inspire the concept of return-on-entry (ROE). ROE can be evaluated where any runner in a given race represents an opportunity cost given that entrant may have otherwise filled another race at enhanced value to wagering (i.e., add to a smaller field and/or convert to an unrestricted race entry).
  • Handle exhibited positive yet diminishing returns to race quality where outlier major stakes race events are controlled for separately in the econometric model.
  • Races taken ‘off-the-turf’ suffer increased wagering penalties in addition to the impacts of reduced field size due to scratches.
  • Finally, the data harbors a number of incidents where races aired on a ‘tape delay’ (i.e., not live) basis through the major distributing television/wagering network. These incidents proved harmful to total wagering.

Continue reading the full report as a PDF here.