05/05/2010 12:00AM

Handle decline slows in April


Handle on races in the United States declined by 2.5 percent in April compared with the same month last year, according to figures released by Equibase on Tuesday, but the rate of the decline has begun to slow measurably as the nation works its way out of the recession.

Handle fell from $1.028 billion in April last year to $1.002 billion in April of this year, according to the figures. In March, handle fell 6.2 percent, while handle in February fell 13 percent from last year and handle in January fell 12 percent.

The wagering figures received a significant boost from a quirk of the racing calendar. The Kentucky Oaks at Churchill Downs was held on April 30 and counted for April's figures. In most years, the Oaks is held in May. Handle on the Oaks card was $36 million.

The handle decline closely matched a 2 percent decline in race days held during the month, from 442 in April of last year to 433 this year. Most racing officials expect racing days to decline significantly over the next two years to compensate for an ongoing contraction in the foal crop tied to the collapse of the bloodstock market over the past two years.

Purses, which are heavily subsidized in many racing states by slot-machine revenues, fell 0.25 percent in April, from $82.3 million last year to $82.1 million.

For the year, handle on U.S. horse races is down 8.4 percent, from $4.14 billion to $3.79 billion. Purses have declined 7.3 percent, and race days are down 7.2 percent, in large part because of the decision by several winter racetracks to cut live race days in January and February from their schedules.