By 2016 the number of starters in Thoroughbred races is projected to be about 39% less than it was in 2003 based on Equibase statistics discussed Oct. 8 during the International Simulcast Conference in Lexington.
The projection is based on the decline of the foal crop since 2003, said Hank Zeitlin, president and chief operating officer of Equibase. From 2003 to 2012, average field size per race dropped 4.9%, but 73% of the decrease came in the last two years, he said.
For the first nine months of 2013, average field size of 7.7 horses per race beat projections. The figure was 8.09 in 2006, but by 2016 is projected to be about 6 horses per race, Zeitlin said.
Zeitlin said for Thoroughbred racetracks to field 8.09 horses per race in 2015, there will have to be 25% fewer races–37,000 versus 50,000 in 2006. He noted the percentage decline for starters "gets more serious" for horses 4 years old and older.
Though annual pari-mutuel handle has dropped about $4 billion since 2003, the average purse per race was up 22% to $24,500 in 2012 when compared with 2003, the Equibase statistics show. But the number of Thoroughbred owners is down 19% from 2003.
Industry consultant Dick Powell said that, at a recent meeting, big bettors said they want larger fields. For instance, they would prefer seven 10-horse races versus 10 seven-horse races.
"The industry doesn't seem to be taking this data into account," Powell said of the impending racehorse shortage, which has been predicted for several years.
Brad Kimbrell, president of InCompass Solutions, said racing secretaries around the country are using new tools to help them schedule and fill races, as well as coordinate post times on a given racing day. The InCompass condition book matrix provides a history of how races have filled and identifies the inventory to fill other races.
Kimbrell said there has been some progress. He noted the overlap in graded stakes in 2011 was 13.1%, but it dropped to 11.4% in 2012. "Awareness is part of the reason we're seeing a drop," he said.
Meanwhile, The Jockey Club and Thoroughbred Owners and Breeders Association continue to provide existing and prospective racehorses with more tools through Thoroughbred OwnerView. Gary Falter, vice president of operations for The Jockey Club, said the website ownerview.com has attracted 95,000 unique visitors, generated 700,000 page views, and is promoted on about 100 industry websites.
The Jockey Club continues upgrading the statistical offerings on the website and plans to add information on farms and mentoring programs, Falter said.
The OwnerView program stemmed from the 2011 McKinsey and Company report. McKinsey surveyed about 1,000 Thoroughbred owners on their experiences in the business.
"(Owners) said it was like a board game that came with no instructions," Falter said.