07/02/2014 1:33PM

All-sources handle at Churchill spring meet down sharply

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LOUISVILLE, Ky. – All-sources wagering handle at the Churchill Downs spring meet that ended Sunday fell by 11.5 percent, a sharp drop that national horseplayers’ groups are claiming is at least partly attributable to a boycott of the track’s simulcast signal.

Handle at the 38-day meet totaled almost $369 million, down from the almost $417 million wagered at the corresponding meet in 2013, when 24 more races were run.

The decrease would have been substantially worse if almost $230 million (down marginally from 2013) in combined handle on Kentucky Oaks and Derby Days had been discounted. Without those two dates, handle on the other 36 days of the meet was down more than 25 percent.

Ontrack handle was not affected nearly as severely, with handle of almost $56 million down 2 percent. Attendance figures were not available.

The average field size for 372 races was 7.29 horses, down noticeably from 7.78 in 2013 (396 races). Per-day purse payouts to horsemen were down marginally, averaging $532,903 versus $534,942 in 2013. Gross purse payouts were more than $20.2 million.

Just before the meet began April 26, the Lexington, Ky.-based Horseplayers Association of North America was among those asking bettors to boycott the Churchill signal because the track had raised its takeout from last year, moving from 16 percent to 17.5 percent on win-place-show wagers and from 19 percent to 22 percent on exotic wagers.

Regarding the sizable drop in all-sources handle that ensued, the California-based website playersboycott.org was updated this week to read: “You the everyday horseplayer spoke loud and clear.”

Churchill vice president John Asher responded to this topic Wednesday via an e-mail that read in part: “Our daily racing product clearly suffered from the shrinking population of horses and increasing competition with tracks in our region and beyond for available horses, especially in mid-to-lower claiming races. While there were other competitive pressures, we believe the shortage of horses due to the ongoing decline in the North American foal crop and expansion of competition from regional tracks fueled by casino-fed purses were the biggest factors that led to the decline in the number of starters.”

While Churchill Downs Inc. tracks maintain a policy of not releasing business figures to the media, these numbers were obtained this week from the Kentucky Horse Racing Commission by way of a public-records request to the state’s Public Protection Cabinet.

Churchill has two more meets this year, from Sept. 5-28 and Oct. 26 to Nov. 30.