06/04/2014 1:22PM

National handle ticks up in May


Wagering on U.S. races rose slightly in May compared to the same month last year, up 1 percent, but the uptick was likely due to an even larger increase in race dates during the month, according to figures released by Equibase on Wednesday.

Race dates climbed 2.5 percent during the month, from 511 in May of last year to 524 in May of this year, despite racetracks encountering widespread troubles in attracting full fields to races. Wagering climbed from $1.20 billion last year to $1.21 billion this year, for an average wagering per race day of $2.31 million this year, down 1.3 percent from average wagering per race day of $2.34 million in May 2013.

The May figures are heavily influenced by betting on the Kentucky Derby and the Preakness Stakes. Betting on the Derby this year was $124.7 million, down slightly from last year’s total, while betting on the Preakness was $58.6 million, up 8.3 percent.

Overall handle was up despite a steep drop in handle on races at Churchill Downs this year aside from its Oaks and Derby day. Handle at the track has been impacted by poor field sizes and a widely publicized boycott of the track’s races because of a decision to raise takeout at the beginning of the spring meet.

There were nine weekend days in May of this year, compared to eight weekend dates last year, which may account for some of the growth in race dates. More tracks run on weekends than on weekdays.
Purses distributed in U.S. races for the month were up 8.0 percent, from $104.0 million last May to $112.4 million this year. Purses at U.S. racetracks are heavily subsidized by casinos and slot machines.

For the year, wagering on U.S. races is down 2.1 percent, according to Equibase. Purses are up slightly, by less than 1 percent, while race dates are down slightly, by less than 1 percent.
Because of stark declines in the foal crop from 2010 to 2012, most racing officials believe the U.S. racing industry will need to pare 25 percent of its races by the end of 2015 in order to maintain current field sizes. Although the Equibase data indicates that tracks are not paring race dates, many tracks, including Churchill, have cut races from their weekday cards, although those efforts have not yet been successful in providing for larger fields.