02/07/2016 6:51PM

Without Breeders' Cup, 2015 handle drops in California

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ARCADIA, Calif. - Handle on horse races throughout California declined in 2015, but the sport showed a slight increase in the number of racing days and average field size, according to an annual report published last week by the California Horse Racing Board.

The report, published on the racing board’s website, gave an overview of a wide variety of business and sporting activities in California’s Thoroughbred, Quarter Horse, and Standardbred racing circuits.

The report stated that equine fatalities at all California’s racetracks declined 6 percent for the fiscal year ending June 30, 2015 compared with the 2013-14 fiscal year, and were down 10 percent from the fiscal year ending June 30, 2013.

There were 187 fatalities at racing board controlled enclosures in the 2014-15 fiscal year, compared with 199 in the 2013-14 fiscal year and 209 in the 2012-13 fiscal year. The figure was as high as 278 in the 2011-12 fiscal year.

In the 2014-15 fiscal year, there were 57 fatalities at Los Alamitos – 23 in races, 11 in training, and 23 other reported incidents, which included a variety of illnesses. By comparison, there were 46 fatalities at Santa Anita, including 18 in races and 21 in training; and 30 at Golden Gate Fields, including 10 in races and 14 in training.

Handle on Thoroughbred, Quarter Horse and Standardbred races in California was $3,215,429,669 from Dec. 26, 2014 to Dec. 22, 2015, a decline of 2.7 percent from the handle figure of $3,306,870,697 over a similar period ending in late December, 2014.  The 2013 handle was $3,372,289,649.

The number of racing days rose from 623 in 2014 to 630 last year, while average field size rose nominally from 7.27 runners per race in 2014 to 7.29 in 2015. There were 5,567 races run in 2015 compared with 5,635 in 2014.

Racing board chairman Chuck Winner cited the absence of the Breeders’ Cup races in California in 2015 as a reason for the decline in handle. The Breeders’ Cup races were held at Santa Anita in 2014, but were run at Keeneland in 2015.

“It seems that racing has reached a set point – holding very close to $3 billion in wagering by fans of California horse racing after declining by $1 billion the previous decade,” Winner wrote in his annual review.

“Handle in 2015 dropped 2.7 percent, but that was largely attributable to the Breeders’ Cup being held elsewhere for the first time in four years.

“Excluding Breeders’ Cup business, total wagering actually increased by 1.6 percent. These figures demonstrate the importance of attracting the world championship Thoroughbred races to California as often as possible.”

The Breeders’ Cup will be held at Santa Anita in November and at Del Mar in the autumn of 2017.

In addition, Winner wrote that the racing board received a $1.2 million increase in funding for the 2015-16 fiscal year to be dedicated to drug testing at UC-Davis.  During the 2014-15 fiscal year, there were four Class 1, 2, or 3 medication violations, which Winner said was the lowest number in those categories in 40 years.