10/04/2011 1:20PM

U.S. race days increase in September over same month in 2010

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Bucking what most racing officials consider a beneficial trend, race days at U.S. racetracks increased in the month of September compared with the same month last year, but demand for racing continued to wane, with total handle at U.S. racetracks dropping 6.3 percent, according to figures released on Tuesday by Equibase.

Race days were up 3.35 percent, from 477 during September of last year to 493 during September of this year. With the exception of September, race days have declined in every month of 2011 as racetracks cut racing days to deal with a prolonged decline in the foal crop and a desire to maintain field sizes in excess of eight horses per race.

But even with the decline in race days, handle dropped from $826.6 million in September of last year to $774.5 million. On average, each race day at U.S. racetracks in September attracted average handle of $1.57 million in 2011, compared to $1.73 million in handle per race day in September of last year, a decline of 9.2 percent.

The wagering figures were negatively impacted by a quirk in the calendar, in which race cards at Belmont and Santa Anita featuring prep races for the Breeders’ Cup are being held in October of this year, rather than September of last year.

Purses, boosted by increases in California from a takeout hike and slot-machine subsidies at racetracks in Florida, rose 6.8 percent in the month compared with purses in September of 2010. In total, U.S. racetracks distributed $94.5 million in purses during the month, compared to $88.5 million in September of last year.

For the first nine months of 2011, wagering is down 7.6 percent, purses are up 0.6 percent, and race days are down 5.2 percent.