02/05/2014 1:13PM

January race days up, but handle down slightly


U.S. racetracks carded 13 more race days last month than in January 2013, and yet handle on U.S. races still declined for the month, albeit by a tiny amount, according to figures released Wednesday by Equibase.

Despite a glut of weather-related cancellations by tracks in the Midwest and Northeast during the month, U.S. racetracks still hosted 305 race cards, compared with 292 cards in January 2013, up 4.5 percent. Total wagering on the cards was $800.5 million, down 0.2 percent from wagering of $802.3 million in January 2013, according to the figures.

Handle per race day declined 4.7 percent, from $2.75 million in January 2013 to $2.62 million last month. Both January months featured eight weekend dates. Handle is typically far higher on weekends than weekdays.

Like last month, January 2013 featured a large number of weather-related cancellations, especially late in the month, leading to a 7 percent decline in race days compared with January 2012, when race days totaled 315. Last month’s race-day numbers also were bolstered by a glut of race cards in Florida, where Gulfstream Park is running five days a week and Calder is running three days a week. In years past, only Gulfstream ran during the winter months.

Purses distributed during the month were up 1.35 percent from January 2013, an increase that compares unfavorably to the 4.5 percent increase in race days for the month. Purses at U.S. tracks are heavily subsidized by casinos.

Racetracks are grappling with shortages of horses due to precipitous declines in the foal crop from 2007 to 2012. The declines were expected to put pressure on the industry to cut racing dates to maintain field sizes attractive to bettors, but many tracks are facing resistance from horsemen’s groups that prefer a large number of racing opportunities and find it easier to earn purses in shorter fields.