10/08/2003 11:00PM

Handle up but purses dip

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Total purses distributed in races in North America declined for the second straight quarter despite another increase in betting handle, according to figures released Thursday by the National Thoroughbred Racing Association and Equibase.

Purses fell from $320 million in the third quarter last year to $306 million in the third quarter of 2003, a decline of 4.15 percent. Total betting on North American racing, however, was $4.01 billion, an increase of 3.38 percent from the third quarter of 2002.

Partially accounting for the fall in purses was a 16-day reduction in racing days. But that was less than 1 percent down from the third quarter last year, well below the rate of decline for purse distribution.

If purses fall in the fourth quarter, then total purse distribution for the year will decline for the first time since 1993.

Remi Bellocq, the executive director of the National Horsemen's Benevolent and Protective Association, said the declines are a "cause for concern for horsemen," but he also said that the declines were expected because of the increasing shift of betting from live tracks to simulcast sites. Purse contributions from bets made at simulcast sites are generally far lower than the contributions from wagers made at live tracks.