10/04/2017 1:40PM

Handle up nearly 4 percent in third quarter

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Wagering on U.S. races in the third quarter of 2017, when marquee meets were held at Saratoga Racecourse and Del Mar Thoroughbred Club, was up 3.7 percent even though the number of races held nationwide fell 2.1 percent, according to figures distributed by Equibase on Wednesday.

The quarterly figures for handle showed decent growth for the first time this year, after a slight decline in the first quarter and a slight increase in the second quarter. Year-to-date, handle on U.S. races is up 1.4 percent, according to Equibase, with the number of races down 1.6 percent.

Average wagering per race in the third quarter this year was $252,078, a 5.9 percent jump over the per-race average of $238,079 in the third quarter of last year.

During the quarter, which ran from July through September, betting on races at Saratoga Racecourse in upstate New York was up 4.4 percent, establishing a new record. At Del Mar, average handle was up 5.1 percent compared to a year earlier, according to the track.

Still, average field size remained low by historical standards, even as tracks continued to cut races and race dates. Average field size in the quarter was 7.53 horses per race, up only slightly from 7.50 horses per race in the third quarter last year. Racing officials consider any field-size figure below 8 horses per race to be substandard.

The number of races held during the quarter dropped from 11,947 last year to 11,698 this year, a decline of 2.1 percent. For the year, the number of races held at U.S. tracks has declined 1.6 percent, so the trend accelerated slightly in the third quarter.

The total amount of purses distributed during the quarter was down 0.6 percent, from $328.8 million last year to $326.8 million this year. Purses at U.S. racetracks are heavily subsidized by casinos revenues.

The average purse per race in the third quarter was $27,939, up 1.5 percent compared to the average purse in the third quarter of last year. Year to-date, the average purse at U.S. tracks has been $27,863, up 2.1 percent compared to the average purse through the first three quarters of 2016.