05/04/2011 1:15PM

April handle falls 7.6 percent, continuing string of declines


Handle on U.S. horse races tracked a 7.5 percent decline in race days by falling 7.6 percent in April when compared with the same month last year, according to figures released on Wednesday by Equibase, extending a long string of month-to-month declines that has shown no indication of abating.

Handle during the month fell from $1,002.2 million to $927.3 million, according to the figures. Four hundred race days held during the month, down from 433 in April of last year. In addition to race-day declines, many tracks have also been paring races from their schedules in order to deal with persistent struggles to fill races.

On the plus side, purses distributed during April rose 3.4 percent compared with purses distributed in April of last year, from $82.1 million to $84.9 million. The rise was largely accountable to purse increases at California tracks and at Gulfstream Park in Florida.

Purse increases in both jurisdictions were not directly tied to handle: In California, purses were raised 25 percent at the start of the year because of a takeout increase – which, theoretically, should lead to a decline in handle, all things being equal. In Florida, purses at Gulfstream were raised this year because of increased retention from the track’s casino because of a reduced tax rate.

For the first four months of the year, handle is down 8.2 percent, according to the Equibase figures, falling from $3.79 billion to $3.47 billion. Purses have increased 4.8 percent, from $276.4 million to $289.6 million. Race days have declined 3.5 percent, from 1,481 to 1,429.

In 2010, handle fell 7.3 percent compared with 2009, following annual slides of 9.9 percent and 7.2 percent in the preceding two years.