04/05/2017 2:23PM

Handle on U.S. races down 1.1 percent in first quarter

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Wagering on U.S. Thoroughbred races declined slightly in the first quarter of 2017 despite an uptick in the number of races held and record-setting handle on the inaugural $12 million Pegasus World Cup in late January, according to figures distributed Wednesday by Equibase.

Wagering in the first three months fell 1.1 percent, from $2.50 billion in the first quarter of last year to $2.47 billion this year. Races were up 3.7 percent, in part because of milder weather this winter in the Midwest and on the East Coast.

Though slight, the decline indicates that racing is continuing to struggle to show any meaningful growth in the post-recession era. Handle per race declined 4.6 percent last quarter from the first quarter of last year, from $343,198 for 7,282 races to $327,523 for 7,550 races. 

Purses distributed in the first quarter jumped 7.76 percent, from $197.3 million to $212.7 million. However, the $12 million Pegasus contributed $11.5 million of the increase – the Pegasus replaced the $500,000 Donn at Gulfstream Park – and the money for that purse was provided entirely by the owners of starting slots in the race, rather than from handle on racing or subsidies from casinos.

Handle on the Pegasus World Cup card was $40.2 million, a single-day record for Gulfstream, far exceeding the $32.8 million bet on the 2016 Florida Derby card.

Field size fell 4.14 percent in the quarter, from 8.19 horses per race last year to 7.85 this year.