Total Thoroughbred Handle Up Slightly in 2003

Total handle on Thoroughbred racing in the United States and Canada increased by only 0.9% in 2003, according to the National Thoroughbred Racing Association and Equibase.

Total handle last year was $15,178,510,116, compared with $15,042,874,877 in 2002.

Total purses dropped 1.86% to $1,054,245,981 from $1,074,247,498 in 2002. The number of racing days in 2003 was 6,438, down 1.6% from 6,547 the previous year.

"Even with the loss of 109 racing days in 2003--78 of them in the fourth quarter--horse racing again has shown growth in the pari-mutuel wagering sector, continuing a trend that now encompasses 10 years," NTRA commissioner Tim Smith said in a prepared statement. "On the other hand, purses have failed to keep pace, for the second consecutive year, with the increase in total wagering volume.

"This pattern is a serious concern and will be a priority matter for the NTRA and like-minded industry organizations to further understand and address in 2004."

The reduction in racing days was partially attributed to condensed schedules at Meadowlands in New Jersey and Suffolk Downs in Massachusetts, as well as weather-related cancellations in the final three months of the year.