03/04/2016 1:56PM

Handle on U.S. races up 6.4 percent in February

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Handle on U.S. races climbed for a third straight month in February, according to figures released by Equibase on Friday, rising 6.4 percent over wagering in February 2015.

Betting last month on U.S. races totalled $812.9 million, up from $763.8 million in February 2015, according to the figures. Betting on U.S. races grew despite continuing declines in the number of races held at U.S. tracks. The number of races held in February dropped 2.3 percent from 2,341 last year to 2,287 this year.

Last month had 29 days and eight weekend dates. Last year, February had its typical 28 days, but it also had eight weekend dates. Handle on weekends is generally far higher than on weekdays.

Handle per race last month averaged $355,430, up 8.9 percent from $326,255 in February 2015. Average field size was up slightly, from 8.10 starters during February last year to 8.24 this year.

Two tracks that ran during February last year, Parx in Bensalem, Pa., and Sunland Park in New Mexico, did not run at all last month, and other minor-league tracks pared races and race dates from their schedules. But the deletions from the live-racing schedule did not appear to affect the amount of money bettors were willing to gamble on horse racing, as horseplayers seem to have shifted their dollars to more stable circuits.

Purses distributed in U.S. races during the month were up 2.4 percent to $62.3 million, or an average of $27,242. Purses at U.S. racetracks are heavily subsidized by casino revenue.

Handle was up in January by 2.2 percent, according to Equibase. Handle was up in December by 8.1 percent.