Woodbine Entertainment, the company responsible for Canada’s largest horse racing track, announced last week that the 2023 Thoroughbred season produced an all-sources handle above $613.1 million.
This figure represents the second-largest single-season horse betting handle in the racetrack’s 67-year history. It is, however, down $8 million from the highest single-season total set during the 2022 campaign.
That said, it still stands a strong result considering the bevy of troubling trends within the horse racing industry. Woodbine Entertainment CEO Michael Copeland applauded his team for enduring such hardships, including increased competition from online sports betting in Ontario.
“Our 2023 Thoroughbred racing meet produced very strong results thanks to our exciting racing product, the strength of the Woodbine brand, and the hard work of our team and the entire horse racing community,” said Copeland. “The results are especially encouraging considering the industry trends our sport is facing with increased competition from sports betting, growing purses in some jurisdictions largely due to ancillary gaming revenues, extreme weather factors that have cancelled an unprecedented number of race cards, North American horse supply, and larger macroeconomic factors like inflation and the uncertainty of the U.S. dollar.
“While we are proud of our results, we cannot be complacent, and we need to focus on the industry trends and other opportunities that will help us navigate these headwinds.”
Breakdown of 2023 racing data
Woodbine had its fair share of ups and downs in 2023 but was still able to put together a strong all-around performance.
A total of 1,180 races were contested across 128 race days in 2023. Each of these figures is slightly down from 2022 quantities, which saw 1,198 races over 132 dates. The company says these decreases were a direct result of having to cancel race cards on five separate occasions. Specifically, extreme heat and poor air quality caused by smoke from forest fires around the country led to an unprecedented number of cancellations.
That said, the average field size (number of horses participating in a race) remained above the industry average at 8.2.
There was, however, a 6.2% decline on Woodbine Thoroughbred racing by customers across Ontario. This figure fell from $87.2 million in 2022 to $81.8 million this past season. Part of the decline in home wagering was offset by a foreign market handle of $512 million. Even though that’s short of 2022’s figure of $515 million, it yields a significant improvement over the previous record of $42o million from 2021.
But, Woodbine’s most recent Thoroughbred campaign did not go without setting a record of its own. The average handle per race grew to $519,597 in 2023, up $580 from 2022.
Partnership with Bet365 a response to emerging sports betting market
On Aug. 16, a mere four days before the 164th running of the King’s Plate, Woodbine announced a partnership with bet365 that allowed sports bettors to wager on horse racing via the legal third-party app. The move ended up paying historic dividends for Woodbine.
Its 2023 King’s Plate card brought in over $18.1 million in handle. To date, this number stands as the most ever wagered on a single Canadian horse racing card.
But that’s just the beginning for Woodbine, as it plans its foray into the world of licensed Ontario sportsbooks. Per the release, the company intends to integrate its pari-mutuel betting product into additional books in 2024. Aside from hoping to a generate greater handle, the move also represents an opportunity to engage with new audiences.
“We are operating on a very solid foundation that positions us well to manage the current industry and economic trends,” said Copeland. “We also have opportunities before us that have not been fully realized yet, like the integration of racing into licensed sportsbooks, which will have a positive impact.”