09/03/2010 11:45AM

Fewer race dates in August hurts handle, purses


Race days at U.S. racetracks in the month of August plummeted 13.2 percent, or a total of 86 dates, a decline that contributed to steep drops in wagering and purse distribution in the month compared with August of last year, according to figures released Friday by Equibase.

With fewer races to bet on, total wagering on races held at U.S. tracks dropped 8 percent, from $1.217 billion to $1.120 billion, according to the figures. Purses distributed in the races dropped 7.9 percent, from $113.5 million to $104.6 million. Race dates declined from 650 held in August of last year to 564 held in August this year.

Though the handle and purse declines outpaced the drop in racing dates, the declines add to a string of depressed month-to-month figures for the racing industry, which has seen handle drop by more than 20 percent over the past two years. Handle dipped 2 percent in July, 5.8 percent in June, and 8.3 percent in June, according to Equibase.

Because of the race-date decline, average handle per race date during August was up 6 percent, from $1.87 million in 2009 to $1.99 million in 2010.

The decline in race dates was attributable to shorter race weeks at a handful of tracks, notably Monmouth Park in New Jersey, and dropped August racing dates at tracks in Pennsylvania, Iowa, and Oklahoma. Most racing officials expect race dates to decline even further in the near future, because of a significant contraction in the foal crop and the persistent erosion in the number of starts per year made by Thoroughbred racehorses.

For the year, wagering on U.S. races is down 7.2 percent when compared to the same time period in 2009. Purses are down 5.2 percent, and race days are down 6.7 percent.