03/04/2011 12:33PM

February purses rise at U.S. racetracks

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Boosted by significantly higher purses at Santa Anita Park, purses distributed in February at U.S. racetracks rose 9.39 percent compared to February of 2010 even as wagering on U.S. races continued to decline, according to figures released on Friday by Equibase.

Total purse distribution during the month was approximately $62.3 million, up from $57 million in February last year. A takeout increase that went into effect at the beginning of the year has boosted purses at Santa Anita by approximately 25 percent, and purses at Gulfstream Park in Florida are also higher this year due to a more advantageous tax rate on the track’s slot machines.

Despite the purse increase, handle dropped another 5.5 percent in the month, from approximately $869.6 million in February of 2010 to $821.8 million this February. Handle has been in a protracted decline for most of the last three years as racing has struggled to maintain market share and hold on to its aging customer base.

U.S. race days were up 4.7 percent during the month, from 298 in February last year to 312 this year, reversing a recent trend. Race days began declining last year as many tracks canceled race dates to address horse shortages.

For the first two months of the year, wagering is down 7.66 percent, from $1,786,604,094 to $1,649,701,322, according to the figures released by Equibase. Purses are up 4.85 percent, from $120,537,629 through the first two months of 2010 to $126,380,351 in January and February of this year. Race days are down slightly, from 644 last year to 642 this year.