03/04/2013 1:26PM

Handle falls 6.6% in February as race days decline

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The number of race days at U.S. tracks in February plummeted 10.8 percent compared to the same number last February, with handle and purses falling in lockstep but at lesser rates, according to figures released Monday by Equibase.

Race days in the month fell from 332 last February to 296 this February, according to the figures. The reduction included the four race days that Aqueduct canceled during the month as part of a management-led initiative to pare the racing schedule, along with a handful of weather-related cancellations at other tracks.

Handle fell 6.6 percent, according to the figures, from $884.3 million last February to $826.3 million this February. Because the decline in race days outpaced the decline in handle, the average handle per race day in the month rose 4.8 percent, from $2.66 million last February to $2.73 million this February.

Purse distribution fell 6.7 percent, from $71.0 million last February to $66.2 million this February. Purses at U.S. racetracks are heavily subsidized by revenues from casinos.

For the first two months of the year, race days have fallen 9.1 percent, while handle has fallen 4.4 percent and purses have fallen 3.3 percent. Racetracks are expected to face significant difficulties this year maintaining field size without paring racing schedules, due to the coming-of-age of horses from the foal crops of 2010 and 2011, which were both down double digits.