06/04/2011 12:27PM

Handle down again in May

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Wagering on U.S. Thoroughbred races continued to decline in May as racetracks slashed race dates to cope with a shrinking supply of horses, according to figures released on Saturday by Equibase.

Wagering in May declined 7.8 percent, from $1.26 billion to $1.16 billion, according to the figures, while the number of race days held at U.S. tracks shrank 9.6 percent, from 563 last May to 509 this May. Meanwhile, the amount of purses distributed at U.S. tracks in May declined 4.4 percent, from $100.3 million to $96 million, reversing a trend in earlier months in which purses rose.

The racing industry is currently in the midst of a severe contraction dating back to 2008. For the first five months of the year, handle on U.S. races was down 8.1 percent, from $5.05 billion to $4.64 billion, putting handle on track to hit its lowest level since 1995, unadjusted for inflation.

Also for the first five months of the year, purses were up 2.3 percent, from $376.8 million to $385.5 million, according to the figures. The increases are almost entirely related to higher purses in California, where a takeout increase that went into effect in January has boosted awards by roughly 25 percent, and to larger purses in Florida, where tracks are retaining a larger share of slot-machine revenues because of a change in the state tax.

U.S. race days through May were down 5.2 percent, from 2,044 in the first five months of last year to 1,938 through May of this year. The U.S. foal crop has been declining over the past six years, and horsemen continue to enter their horses in fewer races.