04/05/2016 1:01PM

March handle ticks upward


Wagering on U.S. races increased slightly in March of this year compared to March of 2015, even as the number of races held at U.S. tracks continued to plummet, according to figures released on Tuesday by Equibase.

All-sources wagering on U.S. races was $854.9 million in March, up 0.9 percent compared with wagering of $847.7 million in March of last year, according to the figures. March of this year had eight weekend dates, one fewer than the nine weekend dates in March of last year. Wagering on weekend dates is typically far higher than betting on weekdays. In addition, one of the weekend dates was Easter Sunday, when Aqueduct, Oaklawn, Tampa, and a number of other tracks were closed and tracks that raced did lighter-than-normal business.

Wagering on U.S. races has risen every month since December, in part because of milder weather this winter in the Midwest and Northeast. Handle has grown despite a marked decline in the number of races held at U.S. tracks as more and more tracks pare dates or races from their schedules to better align race opportunities with sharply declining horse populations.

Races in March dropped by 8.5 percent compared with the number of races held in March of last year. For the year, U.S. races are down 5.8 percent, while all-sources handle is up 3.1 percent, according to Equibase.

Average handle per race in March was $328,429, up 10.2 percent over the average handle per race in March of last year. Average handle per race for the year is up 9.4 percent compared with the first three months of last year, according to calculations based on the Equibase figures.

Total purses distributed during the month in U.S. races dropped 4.9 percent to $72.04 million, but because races declined at a higher rate, the average purse jumped 3.9 percent, to $27,675. Purses have hit record levels at U.S. tracks over the past year because of the decline in races and the minor growth in handle. Purses at many U.S. tracks are heavily subsidized by casino revenues.

Field size in March of this year was up 1.9 percent, from 8.04 in March of 2015 to 8.19 in March of this year.