Turns Out, Horse Racing isn’t quite dead yet

Belmont Park crowd

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Horse racing is dead, right?

That’s all we’ve heard for the last decade or two, much less years. All those horrible equine fatalities at Santa Anita a couple of years back. All those Bob Baffert drug positives in all those high-profile races. All those PETA protests against a sport thought to be well past its prime, one on a slow, agonizing path to extinction.

Don’t tell that to the bettors.

Don’t tell that to the 15,874 who turned out for opening day at Del Mar last week, leading to a record handle of $21,339,643. The California seaside track’s weekend handle: A cool $80.5 million, a 17 percent increase over 2019, the last time fans were allowed to visit the beautiful venue.

Don’t tell that to the 27,760 who turned out for opening day at Saratoga, generating a record $21,935,534 handle. That set the stage for a four-day all-sources handle of $90.1 million. Last Saturday’s handle was $32,117,869 for the 11 races. And the Travers, Saratoga’s signature stakes race, isn’t until Aug. 28.

Don’t tell that to the 20,983 who showed up at Monmouth Park for last Saturday’s Haskell Invitational, which helped produce a $16.4 million handle. And that was without a Kentucky Derby winner in the field because, well, at this point, we don’t really have an official Kentucky Derby winner.

By now we’ve heard the horse-racing-is-dead narrative so long it has almost been taken for granted. The popular storyline persists that there just isn’t much interest in Thoroughbred racing beyond the passionate subset that clings to the sport…