09/04/2009 12:00AM

U.S. handle dips in August

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Wagering on U.S. races declined 12.5 percent in August compared to the same month a year earlier, according to statistics released on Friday by Equibase, the racing industry's data-collection company.

Total wagering on U.S. races during the month was $1.22 billion, a $172 million decline from betting of $1.39 billion in August last year. U.S. race days, however, were down 8 percent in August compared to last year, from 709 to 650, in part because of a drastic cutback at Ellis Park in Kentucky and a decision to hold five days of racing a week rather than six at Del Mar this year.

While racing officials were not expecting handle figures to rebound after steady declines throughout the year, the 12.5 percent drop did not reflect business at Saratoga, the most popular summer racetrack in the U.S. Through the first five weeks of its meet, Saratoga was down 2.8 percent in all-sources handle, according to figures from the track.

At Del Mar, all-sources average handle has been steady through mid-August, but the cancellation of Monday race days likely removed a significant amount of handle from the total for this August. Average handle last year at Del Mar was $13 million, though the Monday handle was far short of that figure.

Purses declined 11.4 percent in August compared to the same month last year, from $128 million to $113 million, according to the statistics.

For the year, wagering on U.S. races is down 11.1 percent, from $9.9 billion to $8.8 billion, and purses are down 7.4 percent, from $787 million to $728 million. The two declines are the largest in decades, and have accompanied the bankruptcy of racing's largest racetrack operator, Magna Entertainment, along with a significant contraction in the bloodstock market.