AN INTERVIEW WITH NICK EAVES
President – Woodbine Entertainment Group
NICK EAVES talks about the upcoming thoroughbred season at Woodbine which begins Saturday with the first of 167 cards of racing.
TB: Wagering on simulcast racing and standardbreds is up in 2009 (January through mid March), things seem to be going well?
NE: Things are going relatively well. Along with the rest of the world, we were concerned coming in into 2009 – just having seen what happened through the 4th quarter of 2008 globally.
Through the first 8 months of 2008 we saw modest growth in our blended handle (all sources, breeds) – 3 – 4% – defying everything that was going on elsewhere in racing.
We finished the year about even so that growth was wiped out in the last quarter but that wasn’t a surprise.
As we budgeted for ’09 we assume that we would see some of those same trends but thankfully we haven’t.
TB: So how much is wagering up and is it realistic to expect it to hold throughout the year?
NE: We’re up 6% over last year through halfway through March.
There a few reasons, there have been several extra standardbred cards of racing with American simulcast wagering, we’re benefitting from the (exchange).
The most encouraging element is through Horseplayer Interactive/Rewards program, which is 47% of total wagering: we’ve seen a number of customers who were with us, left for other options and are now coming back.
Through a time of real international crisis some off-shore operators are doing fine, but some are shutting down, operations ceasing and accounts being blocked.
Customers pay attentipon to that and we are benefitting from the reputation of stabilty and accountability and regulation that will be there with our program.
TB: How is the slot business (run by Ontario Lottery and Gaming)
NE: Woodbine slots has always trended upwards. There was about a 10% growth through most of 08 and then latter part it dropped off but through the first 2 ½ months of 2009 it’s about the same as what I have said about wagering.
TB: Can these trends in wagering, slot revenue continue?
NE: We’re not taking anything for granted.
People who are in difficult economic times are holding off on car repairs, home improvements, etc. Once the broader economy comes out, their first dollars will go to those things, and only later the entertainment dollars will come back.
It’s reasonable for us to be concerned that we still could follow the trend that all the rest of economy is following.
TB: WEG is still keeping up with improvements, however, what was money spent on?
NE: Every year we have to keep investing in the assets – frontside and backside.
We have renovated 4 more of the barns at $1 million per barn, and brought in 8 new trailers for the sales barns in partnership with the HBPA for a better office and tack room for the trainers.
We also have a new starting gate modelled on our previous one and it cost about $250,000.
TB: What is the update on Woodbine Live!
NE: It continues to progress and these are difficult times to be moving a $750 million project ahead but we’re moving it ahead.
Currently, we are still moving through the process with the city. The final pieces are site plan approvals that give final sign off on road networks, building designs etc.
We are as commited today as we ever have been and still aiming for the end of the year (to start construction).
TB: Tracks throughout North America are cutting out stakes, purses and dates and Woodbine seems to hold steady, how come?
NE: There have been countless opportunities to move away from the core of our business – we’ve seen other places do it, but there is something to be said for a commitment back to the core product – horse racing.
Even in times when returns are not that clear, there is a commitment to keep investing in in improvements.
We’ve still got a pretty good business model and thank goodness we don’t rely as heavily on slots as other tracks do, or racing as other tracks do. There is a real balance.
Woodbine and Mohawk are the only 2 tracks in Ontario, and likely North America, to generate more of its revenue from racing than it does gaming.
It’s close but racing still generates more.
FIRST CARD OF RACING DRAWN FOR 2009
• PRETTY KATHERINE will be favoured to win the opening day feature at Woodbine on Saturday when the Vindication filly, who has shipped in from California, takes on 6 rivals in the $100,000 La Voyageuse Stakes.
The race is the 6th of 10 on Saturday.
##Note: Woodbine has a brand-new post time for 2009 of 1 p.m. – it was 1:10 last year.
Pretty Katherine, a Woodbine Oaks candidate, is from the barn of Jerry Hollendorfer, who has a handful of stalls at Woodbine this year, DAVID CLARK gets the mount on the filly who is stakes placed.
Beside PRETTY KATHERINE in the gate is stakes winner HIGH MIST, owned by Wendy Anderson. N.C. Stable plus Jerry Frankel, Bradley Weisbord and Robert Masteron.
The Olmodavor filly has been training in Florida all winter and Jim McAleney will be riding the Reade Baker trainee for the first time.
Mike Ambler’s DOUBLE MALT, also a stakes winner, is another contender from post 7.
The race is for Ontario foaled 3-year-old fillies.
MULTIPLE CHAMPION JUDITH IS BACK
• Trainer Reade Baker’s website reports that the stable has welcomed double sprint champion and is pointing the big grey to the Jacques Cartier Stakes on April 25. A champion in 2004 and 2005, Judiths Wild Rush has been on the road for several years for owner Harvey Tenenbaum.
An iron horse, Judiths Wild Rush has won stakes races every year since he was a 2-year-old. He is a millionaire and 8-years-old in2009. Throughout his career he has been trained by Scott Fairlie and Julian Canet as well as Baker.
WOODBINE TELEVISION COVERAGE 2009
• Woodbine Entertainment’s in-house television coverage springs fom the gate on Saturday, opening day of the meeting, with a show on the cable channel Sun TV.
“One thing that will be new in these Saturday shows is that we’re adding a second product to them. So, for example – you’ll be seeing 4 races from Woodbine on Sun TV this Saturday and also 4 races from Keeneland,” said producer Rob Platts.
The show on Saturday is from 2 to 4 p.m.
The Sunday Score coverage (cable channel The Score) begins this Sunday at 1 p.m. ( because Woodbine’s first post is 1 p.m. that race will probably end up being shown on tape slightly delayed). These shows will eventually change to 12 p.m.
And the first Race Night on The Score Wed. night program is scheduled for April 29th – 7-10.
The 123 Racing game will return.
KENTUCKY DERBY PREP RACES THIS WEEKEND
• At Aqueduct, a small field is sent for the prestigious Wood Memroial with I WANT REVENGE the one to beat. Photo of I Want Revenge courtesy of Sarah K. Andrew.
WOOD MEMORIAL S.-GI, $750,000, 3yo, 1 1/8 Miles
PP HORSE (SIRE) JOCKEY
1 I Want Revenge (Stephen Got Even) Talamo
2 Lord Justice (A.P. Indy) Lopez
3 Cellar Dweller (Rahy) Napravnik
4a Atomic Rain (Smart Strike) Bravo
5a West Side Bernie (Bernstein) Elliott
6 Imperial Council (Empire Maker) Prado
7 Just a Coincidence (Forestry) Velazquez
8 Lime Rickey (Lemon Drop Kid) Castellano
On the west coast, THE PAMPLEMOUSSE is listed at 9 to 5 for the Santa Anita Derby over 2 to 1 PIONEEROF THE NILE.
Saturday, Santa Anita
SANTA ANITA DERBY-GI, $750,000, 3yo, 1 1/8m
PP HORSE (SIRE) JOCKEY
1 Chocolate Candy (Candy Ride (Arg)) Rosario
2 Z Day (Five Star Day) Gryder
3 Unbridled Roman (Roman Dancer) T Baze
4 Pioneerof the Nile (Empire Maker) Gomez
5 Mr. Hot Stuff (Tiznow) Nakatani
6 Feisty Suances (Suances (GB)) Espinoza
7 Take the Points (Even the Score) DeCarlo
8 Cape Truth (Cape Town M) Baze
9 Gallant Son (Malabar Gold) Bejarano
10 The Pamplemousse (Kafwain) Solis
COOL GATOR in Grade 3
• Garland William’s homebred COOL GATOR has 6 rivals in Saturday’s Skip Away Stakes at Gulfstream Park. The Macho Uno colt missed the Queen’s Plate last year due to injury and has been on the comeback trail.
Saturday, Gulfstream Park
SKIP AWAY S.-GIII, $100,000, 4yo/up, 1 3/16m
PP HORSE (SIRE) JOCKEY WT
1 Cool Gator (Macho Uno) DeCarlo 114
2 Finallymadeit (Concerto) Nunez 122
3 Fierce Wind (Dixie Union) Marquez Jr 120
4 Tomcito (Street Cry (Ire)) Lezcano 122
5 Tizbig (Tiznow) Santiago 114
6 Imawildandcrazyguy (Wild Event) Aguilar 120
7 Nistle’s Crunch (Van Nistelrooy) Baird 122
ZOOMER MAGAZINE FEATURES RACING
• Canadian magazine ZOOMER has a feature on horse race betting coming out in the next week. The May issue article was written by author and racing fan Mark Ripple of www.uberlock.com (see ad on this site).
MY WILL FAVOURED FOR GRAND NATIONAL
from Grand Nationalpro.com
A maximum field of 40 go to post for Saturday’s John Smith’s Grand National and it is My Will that heads the market with totesport at 15/2 just ahead of Butler’s Cabin at 9/1.
Tony McCoy has opted to ride the latter and no horses were taken out at the final declaration stage. There have been four reserves named in the shape of Maljimar, Companero, Iron Man and Patsy Hall
‘The final pieces of the Grand National jigsaw are now in place and with Tony McCoy confirmed on board Butler’s Cabin, we should see a titanic tussle between his mount and My Will at the head of the market. McCoy and Ruby Walsh are firm favourites with the punters and a victory for either of those two would spell disaster for the bookies,’ said totesport spokesman George Primarolo.