Churchill Downs

Churchill Downs

Anne M. Eberhardt

Steep Wagering Decline at Churchill Fall Meet

Compared to the 2012 fall meet, total average daily handle declined 15.3%.

The Churchill Downs fall meet saw a double-digit percentage decline in average daily wagering at this year's 25-day stand that wrapped Saturday, Nov. 30.

Compared to the 2012 fall meet, total average daily handle declined 15.3% to $4,705,706. Total wagering at the 25-day meet was up less than 1% compared with last year but this year's fall meet was four days longer than last year's meet.

Churchill Downs Inc.'s policy is not to release wagering and attendance figures for its tracks, except on major race days and night racing. The track, however, does report handle statistics to the KHRC, and those figures were obtained upon request from the regulatory agency.

The KHRC does not track attendance numbers.

In a Churchill release on the meet, the track noted a 22.4% decline in average daily purses paid during the 2013 fall meet at $328,881, compared with last year's $423,557 average. 

The size of the average racing field at Churchill Downs during the 25-day session was 8.84 horses, a decrease from the average of 9.56 horses-per-race during the 21-day meet of 2012.  

Unlike last year, Churchill offered September race dates and this year's 12-day meet generated $46.3 million in handle.

Churchill blamed the continued growth and maturation of regional casinos, growing competition from racetracks with purses fueled by gaming revenues, and the meet's weather woes for this year's poor fall meet numbers.

"We had many highlights during our fall meet as our Thanksgiving weekend racing and hospitality efforts were strong, and our 'Stars of Tomorrow' programs for 2-year-olds remained popular," said Churchill president Kevin Flanery in a release. "But those successes were accompanied by challenges that impacted our product and our business levels. Along with ongoing competition from casinos in our market that have been part of the scene now for 15 years, competition for both horses and wagering dollars from racetracks that benefit from casino and gaming revenues continues to intensify.

"Those tracks are luring stables and horses from our Kentucky market and Churchill Downs meets, which puts pressure on our efforts to maintain large and competitive fields of horses. That competitive pressure was exacerbated this fall when we encountered unusually wet and cool weather that cost us several days of turf racing, which made it more difficult to maintain large and attractive field sizes. We could have been luckier with the weather, but given the strengthening of our ongoing competition, this meet would have been challenging if each day had been sunny and warm."