02/04/2015 1:00PM

Handle rises in January despite fewer races


Handle on U.S. races in January climbed 1.5 percent compared with the same month last year despite a 2.8 percent drop in the number of races held during the month, according to figures released on Wednesday by Equibase.

Handle during January this year was $812.6 million compared with $800.4 million in the same month last year, while the number of races fell from 2,619 in January last year to 2,547 this year. Per race, handle was up 4.4 percent.

Winter weather can be blamed for some of the decline in races, along with the cancellation of numerous cards at Aqueduct in New York due to a combination of winter storms and concern over a spate of catastrophic injuries suffered by horses this year during the inner-track meet.

However, part of the decline is due to racetracks dropping races from their cards in an effort to boost field sizes.

U.S. starts during the month were 21,172, up 2.9 percent from January 2014, indicating that field size rose during the month. Tracks have begun to aggressively pare races from their schedules to counteract significant declines in the foal crop from 2010-12.

Handle figures for this year also were bolstered by an additional weekend date during the month when compared with January 2014. This year, there were nine weekend dates, and the New Year’s Day holiday fell on a Thursday, leading to a four-day weekend for some. Last year, there were eight weekend dates, with New Year’s Day falling on a Wednesday.

During the month, handle was stronger at both Santa Anita in Southern California and Gulfstream Park in south Florida compared with last year.

U.S. tracks held 306 race dates during the month compared with 305 last year, a negligible increase.

Purses distributed at U.S. racetracks declined 1.9 percent to $66.0 million. Part of the decline is attributable to the cancellations at Aqueduct, where purses are heavily subsidized by slot-machine revenue.