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A Different Breed of Fan : Crowds for Big Event Tend to Be More Upscale Than Usual

November 01, 1986|GRAHAME L. JONES | Times Staff Writer

At 7:30 this morning, the gates will open at Santa Anita, and the first of what are expected to be 60,000 to 70,000 fans will enter.

Does that mean the Breeders' Cup is a success?

At 7:31, or shortly thereafter, the first dollar of what is expected to be a total of more than $12 million will be wagered.

Does that mean the Breeders' Cup is a success?

Long before the first fan bets the first dollar, television, radio and print reporters from as far away as England, France, Japan and Australia will have arrived at the track, preparing to cover seven of the days' nine races.

Does that mean the Breeders' Cup is a success?

To determine the answers, it is necessary to examine the primary goal of the Breeders' Cup, which is stated in the event's program as being: "To build broad-based positive public awareness of thoroughbred racing, thereby increasing fan participation in the sport and expanding opportunities for development of the thoroughbred industry."

And essentially, the Breeders' Cup is what it is advertised to be--a day of championship-caliber racing in which many of the best horses and jockeys in the world gather at one spot to determine who, on that day at least, is the best in the business.

What sort of crowd will be drawn to such an event at Santa Anita today? Will it differ from the crowd that attends, say, the Santa Anita Handicap or the Hollywood Gold Cup? Will it wager differently? If so, how?

D.G. Van Clief Jr., the executive director of the Breeders' Cup Ltd., headquartered in Lexington, Ky., attempted to address those questions during a recent interview.

"It's obviously a relatively big crowd," Van Clief said. "We had around 64,000 (actually, 64,254) at Hollywood Park for the first running and 42,000 (actually, 42,568) last year at Aqueduct, which is not really a huge crowd by Southern California standards, but it's a good crowd when compared to what Aqueduct has done in the last few years.

"I think an event of this sort and of this magnitude will bring out not only the hard-core horse player and the initiated racing fan, but it's also going to bring out the general sports fan, the sort of person who is drawn to any major sports event. The type of person, for instance, who will go to a playoff or World Series game but doesn't normally go to the ballpark the rest of the year. The same sort of fan might come to the Breeders' Cup, even though he may only visit a race track infrequently the rest of the year.

"With that type of a crowd, you'd expect the per capita betting to go down, even though it has generated huge handles so far--$11.4 million the first year and a combined on- and off-track handle of $28 million out of New York last year.

"But generally, I think you get all your horse players who bet consistently and will bet heavily, and you get a lot of others who will bet as a pastime and something fun to do as well."

Frank (Jimmy) Kilroe, senior vice president of racing for the Los Angeles Turf Club, Inc. and director of racing for the Oak Tree meeting, doubts that today's event will draw the high rollers, those who gamble huge amounts without hesitation.

"I wouldn't think so because, for one thing, a high roller wants to know what he's doing," Kilroe said. "When you have the best horses in Europe and the best horses in New York and the best horses in California and match them up with no previous meetings, you're kind of guessing (in trying to handicap them)."

Van Clief, however, believes the Breeders' Cup is ideal for those who want to pit their mental skills against the physical skills of a horse and jockey.

"As far as a handicapping day goes," he said, "I think it's probably the best (day) in the world. Yes, you are matching horses that haven't met before, so that leaves a question. On the other hand, horse for horse, these horses are going to be truer to form than any other group of horses on a seven-race card you could put together anywhere.

"From a handicapping point of view, I think it's a handicapper's dream because these horses are going to be consistent.

"Yes, there are some questions when you put European-based horses on a track with their American and Canadian counterparts where they've never competed before. That makes a challenging enterprise out of it. But I think race for race it's probably more appealing to the handicappers than anything else."

How does the event differ from, say, the Santa Anita Handicap, which, after all, drew a record crowd of 85,527 on March 3, 1985, and a national record handle of $12,611,415?

"I would think that it will be a much more glamorous occasion than the Handicap just by itself because the Handicap is more of a local thing," Kilroe said.

"It's like a World Series. I think an average crowd for any World Series game is quite different from even a big crowd for a (regular season) ballgame.

"We have to set aside more reserve space for the people coming in, a lot more out-of-towners, so it'll be more noticeable from the top down, a lot more VIPs than we normally have."

"Numerically, nobody can make a very intelligent guess as to how many (fans) we'll get. . . . That (the 85,527 attendance for the '85 Big 'Cap) was without television, so that's a very important exception."

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