Belmont Stakes Handle and Japanese Interest
Epicharis in the UAE Derby (Melanie Martinez Photo)
How could Epicharis' run in the Belmont Stakes affect handle?
by Alastair Bull
This year’s Belmont Stakes may not get the handle boost that it gets when the Triple Crown is on the line. But there is some excitement about the impact the race will get with direct betting from Japan on a Triple Crown race for the first time.
Just four sports are available for gambling in Japan: speedway motorcycle racing, cycling, powerboat racing, and horse racing, and Japanese people bet on the horses in a spectacular way.
Until recently, however, Japanese people could not bet directly on any foreign races. That changed in 2015, when betting was allowed to be opened on about 40 foreign races in certain circumstances. The first of these was the 2015 Prix de l’Arc de Triomphe, in which they invested $40 million – reportedly more than was invested in France.
To date there has been just one United States race open to wagering in Japan: last year’s Breeders’ Cup Filly and Mare Turf, in which the Japanese horse Nuovo Record competed. The Japanese handle on that race, run at 4:43 a.m. Japanese time, was $7.68 million.
On June 10, there will be a second, when the Belmont Stakes becomes the first Triple Crown race open to Japanese punters, due to the presence of the top quality Japanese dirt horse Epicharis.
Epicharis finished on on top in the inaugural Japanese Road to the Kentucky Derby. But after travelling to Dubai for the UAE Derby, where he was a close second to Thunder Snow, his trainer Kiyoshi Hagiwara decided the Kentucky Derby, five weeks afterwards, would be too taxing.
The Belmont Stakes, another five weeks afterwards, was a different story, and the agreement which allows Japanese betting on the race – in a separate, non-comingled pool – will be even more exciting for racing authorities. Whether it matches the 2015 Prix de l’Arc de Triomphe figure is another thing, but it will have a chance of matching or exceeding the Filly and Mare Turf figure.
The impact on U.S. handle is a little more difficult to predict, but some guide can be found from last year’s Triple Crown races, which featured the Japanese-trained Lani.
There’s no doubt Lani added some betting interest to all three races. But total all-sources handle in last year’s Derby – in which Nyquist was a short 2-1 favorite – was $137.9 million, below 2015 ($137.9 million) and this year ($139.2 million, a record). The handle for the entire 14-race card on Preakness day in 2016 was a record $94.1 million, though it was eclipsed by this year’s $97.2 million.
Belmont Stakes handle is always dependent on whether a Triple Crown is on the line. The best comparison with last year’s race, in which $52.2 million was invested in a race featuring Lani but with no Triple Crown going, was the 2013 figure of $52.6 million. By comparison, $81.7 million was wagered in American Pharoah’s year of 2015, and $92.2 million when California Chrome sought the Triple Crown the year before.
Epicharis, by leading Japanese dirt sire Gold Allure, should however add plenty of interest to what looks to be a competitive Belmont. He doesn’t seem to have the quirky nature that Lani did, and like many Japanese horses, his pedigree has more stamina than many American dirt horses. Gold Allure’s sire Sunday Silence has produced numerous 1-1/2 mile horses in Japan, his dam is by 1994 Arc winner Carnegie, and his pedigree includes the notable 1-1/2 mile runners Nijinsky, Vaguely Noble, and Diatome. Punters who ignore him, especially for multiples, do so at their peril.