Santa Anita Handle Down in All Categories

Santa Anita Handle Down in All Categories
Photo: Benoit Photography
Santa Anita race track.

Whether gross or average figures are used, pari-mutuel handle for the Santa Anita Park winter/spring was down, according to information compiled from various sources.

Santa Anita at the end of the meet April 17 released only a few percentages and no handle figures. The Blood-Horse used figures from CHRIMS, Equibase, and the Horseplayers Association of North America, which tracks handle for various meets of interest.

Santa Anita raced 70 days during its 2010-11 meet, down from 78 for the comparable 2009-10 meet. There were 65 fewer races this year. The California track replaced its synthetic surface with dirt, something that was expected to help increase handle.

Ontrack handle had the lowest decline of 3.3%. The average this year was $976,919 this year versus $1,010,939 last year. The largest drop came from out-of-state handle, which fell 14.3% from an average of $4,533,707 last year to $3,887,198 this year.

In other categories, in-state handle at other wagering outlets dropped 7.7%, and California advance deposit wagering handle was down 11.9% to $518,107 per day. ADW has been hailed by many in the industry as the primary growth channel for handle.

Overall, total average daily handle for 2010-11 was $6,675,569, down 11.6% from $7,553,653.

With eight fewer days this year, gross handle of $467,289,835 was off $121,895,165, a decline of 20.7%. Using this year’s daily average of $6.67 million in handle, even with an additional eight days total handle would have been down more than $68.4 million for the 2010-11 meet.

Gross handle was down across the board: ontrack (13.2%), in-state satellite wagering (18.3%), California ADW (20.9%), and out-of-state (23%).

A pari-mutuel takeout hike on exotic wagers took effect Jan. 1 and triggered a boycott by some players, according to HANA. The public’s share of the betting dollar was reduced so purses could be increased, racing industry officials said.

According to The Jockey Club Information Systems, purses for the 2010-11 meet totaled $31,851,596, up 4.86% from $30,311,172 for the 2009-10 meet. Average daily purses jumped 14.59%, from $388,605 to $455,023.

The additional funds didn’t help field size, nor did the new dirt track. TJCIS figures show average field size of 7.63 horses per race, down about 3% from 7.87.

Santa Anita ended up scrapping plans to expand to five-day race weeks from four in March and April.

“Our original intent was to go to a five-day week in March and in April, but we simply didn’t have the inventory to support that at the time,” Santa Anita president George Haines said in a statement after the meet. “California’s horse inventory crisis is one of the key factors in Santa Anita’s final numbers.”

Ultimately, Santa Anita conducted only one Wednesday program during the latter half of the meet, on March 23. That card handled the lowest of the entire meet—$3,456,917 from all sources and $311,432 on track. The meet’s best all-sources handle day was April 9, Santa Anita Derby (gr. I) day, with $15,397,829 wagered.

Officials have said many factors may have contributed to the decline in out-of-state wagering in California, including shorter fields; the shutdown of New York City Off-Track Betting Corp.; the takeout hike and related boycott, which attracted mainstream media attention in California; and the fact Santa Anita had fewer pick six carryovers.

California racetrack officials have been having discussions with all facets of the industry, including horseplayer groups, to address the declining numbers. Hollywood Park, which opens its spring/summer meet April 21, plans to experiment with a new pick five wager that has a 14% takeout rate.

Hollywood announced April 18 that purses for its 54-day meet will average $290,000-$300,000 per day, up 16%-20%. Entry-level allowance races for sprinters will go for $52,000, while maiden special weight races on the grass will go for $50,000.

Claiming race purses also have been increased, some by $10,000.

“The increases in purses for claiming horses can help keep an owner in business," Hollywood Park vice president of racing Martin Panza said in a statement. “Someone can claim a horse for, say $12,500, win a race, and be out on the claim. This could lead to an increase in horse inventory and stimulate more business."

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