09/04/2013 12:25PM

Handle in U.S. rises in August over 2012

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Handle on U.S. races jumped a healthy 4.7 percent in August of this year compared with last August, according to figures released by Equibase on Wednesday, driving year-to-date handle into positive territory for the first time this year.

Handle on U.S. races was $1,147,685,805 in August, up $51 million compared to August handle last year of $1,096,304,338, according to the figures. The results were driven by strong handle numbers at Del Mar Thoroughbred Club in California, where wagering has been up nearly 10 percent since the meet started in July.

The strong August numbers erased a slight decline in handle for the year, with wagering on U.S. races, now up 0.1 percent compared with handle through August of last year. Handle had been trending downward all year because of a decline in race days, especially in the first few months of the year.

For the month, race days were up 1 percent, to 582 this August from 576 in August of 2012. For the year, race days are still down, by 2.7 percent, according to Equibase, as tracks react to sharp declines in the foal crop over the past five years.

The growth in the August numbers may also have been due to how the days of the week fell during the month. This year, there were nine weekend days during the month, compared to eight last August. Weekend handle is typically higher than weekday handle.

Purses distributed in U.S. races during August were $123,525,791, up 5.5 percent compared with purses distributed in August of last year, Equibase said. Purses at U.S. tracks are heavily subsidized by revenue from slot machines.

Bookended by Del Mar on the West Coast and Saratoga on the East Coast, August is the second-strongest month on the racing calendar for wagering, behind only May, when two of the three races of the Triple Crown are held. The Kentucky Derby alone this year drew $130 million in wagers, contributing in large part to the heady May totals.