Anne M. Eberhardt

Purses, Handle Show Solid March Gains

Purses were up 12.39% and pari-mutuel handle increased 9.46% from March 2011.

Purses and pari-mutuel handle on Thoroughbred races continued a solid rebound in March with a slight increase in race days, according to the Thoroughbred Racing Economic Indicators released by Equibase.

United States purses registered the largest gain of 12.39%. Purses totaled $87,988,508 in March, up almost $10 million from $78,290,581 in March 2011.

Commingled handle on U.S. races totaled $984,364,716 in March, up 9.46%--more than $85 million—from $899,283,536 in March of last year.

Race days—the number of individual programs at each track—went from 387 to 394, an increase of 1.81%.

In February of this year, purses increased 13.93% and handle 7.60% from February 2011, according to Equibase.

For the first three months of 2012, purses are up 9.84% ($224,808,306 versus $204,670,112 for the first quarter of 2011); handle is up 5.43% ($2,687,209,061 versus $2,548,748,643); and race days have increased 1.17% (1,041 this year versus 1,029 in 2011).

Industry officials have credited what appears to be a slow recovering for Thoroughbred pari-mutuel wagering on an improving economy. At this time last year, the statistics for handle were hardly encouraging.

The March 2011 commingled handle was down 9.96% from March 2010, when it just missed topping $1 billion. Purses last March held their own with a 6.09% increase from March 2010.

At this time last year, year-to-date commingled handle on U.S. races was down 8.49%, so the first three months of 2012 represent an almost 13-point shift.