01/12/2005 12:00AM

North American purses rise


Total purses distributed at Thoroughbred racetracks in the U.S. and Canada rose in 2004 by 3 percent, despite the first decline in handle in 11 years, according to figures released by the National Thoroughbred Racing Association and Equibase on Wednesday.

The rise in purses for 2004 is a reversal from 2003, when purses declined despite a rise in handle. That result had spurred the NTRA to form a task force examining the decline. The task force broadly concluded that purses had been growing at a slower rate than handle because of a decline in revenue to racetracks due to the rise of simulcasting.

The decline in handle was the first in Thoroughbred racing since 1993. According to the figures, handle in 2004 fell 0.58 percent, from $15,179,322,284 to $15,091,778,827. In 1993, handle declined 0.4 percent, from $9,638,864,200 to $9,600,545,400.

The decline in handle came in a year in which all three Triple Crown races broke records for wagering, in part due to the popularity of Smarty Jones. Handle for the Breeders' Cup also broke records.

The purse growth in 2004, the NTRA said, was heavily influenced by slot-machine operations at racetracks. Three of the four racetracks that had the highest increase in average daily purse distribution in 2004 were tracks that operate slot machines, the NTRA said.

Race days declined marginally in 2004, from 6,437 to 6,423, according to the figures.