The 2022 racing season came to a close at Batavia Downs on Saturday (Dec. 17) and although some declines in handle were realized, the track performed better than many national trends.
The track recorded its fourth-highest total on-track handle for Batavia live racing since Western Regional OTB reopened the track in 2002, finishing only $33,599 behind the 2021 totals while racing the same number of days (55). However, the total handle (from all sources) for Batavia live racing was down 6.4% from last year, and that may have been a direct result of more competition for the expendable gaming dollar.
Don Hoover, General Manager of Live Racing and Race Secretary at Batavia Downs said, “Keeping these numbers in context, total wagering on harness racing in the United States this year is down 8.4% over 2021, which puts Batavia ahead of the national average. The introduction of online sports wagering in New York State in January of 2022 had a definite impact on the betting dollar at every race track and the months of road work on the new Park Road extension put a definite crimp on our in-house business during our prime summer dates.”
The good news was that local horsemen and women were beneficiaries of some of the best purses in the state during the meet, and those numbers drew more horses that stiffened the competition on the track.
Total purses (including stakes) at Batavia Downs were up 31% from 2021. Overnight purses alone increased by 29%, due in part to holding 88 more races this year. That latter increase was distributed to local racing participants and the agricultural infrastructure in the area will benefit directly from that money as it goes back into the local economies of Western New York and the Southern Tier, supporting the farmers, blacksmiths, veterinarians and others businesses that directly service the racing industry.
Bigger purses brought more horses and that added competition produced better payouts. Batavia Downs registered 45.8% winning favorites and that was the lowest among competing tracks at Buffalo, Monticello, Northfield, Saratoga and Yonkers who averaged between 46.8% and 48.3%.
“In sum, despite slight declines in overall wagering, I am happy with the robust growth shown in racing, with increases in average field size, overnight purses distributed, and the total number of horses competing at Batavia Downs in 2022,” said Hoover.
Probably the single greatest racing moment of the meet was when American Dealer N (Joe Bongiorno) scored a 2-1/2 length victory in the 17th edition of the $75,000 Robert J. Kane Memorial Invitational Pace which was held on Friday (Aug. 26) at Batavia Downs, setting a new all-time track record of 1:50.2. The lightning-fast speed strip also produced two other track records along with a list of new lifetime marks for competing horses.
Local driving favorite Kevin Cummings captured the dash title at the recently concluded session by winning 150 races, 14 more than the second place Jim Morrill Jr. However, Morrill and Cummings both made history by being the first drivers to ever surpass $1 million in earnings in the history of Batavia Downs (Morrill-$1,115,951, Cummings-$1,032,364). Shawn McDonough won his first-ever training title at the Downs finishing with 52 wins, only two more then the second place Jennifer Giuliani (50).
The completion of the 2022 meet does not mean that Batavia Downs will be dark for long. For the first time in over 20 years, winter racing will be back and begin at the Genesee County oval on Monday (Jan. 9) and continue through Monday (Feb. 27). The eight-week meet will be conducted on a Monday-Thursday schedule with post-time at 3 p.m. for all race days. Opening day will feature a $17,500 guaranteed pool that also has a mandatory payout on the Jackpot Super Hi-5 in the day’s last race.
Tom Bojarski is the publicist for Batavia Downs.