Sunland, Delta Downs Fuel 2003 Purse Increases

Purses at Thoroughbred tracks in the U.S. increased by 4.3% in the first quarter of 2003, despite a 1.2% drop in pari-mutuel handle, according to statistics released April 4 by Equibase and the National Thoroughbred Racing Association.

The increase in gross purses for the first quarter -- from $200.2 million in 2002 to $208.8 million this year -- is directly attributable to newfound revenue from slot machines at two tracks, Sunland Park in New Mexico and Delta Downs in Louisiana. Sunland's purses jumped from $4.2 million to $7.6 million, while Delta Downs' soared from $3.6 million to $9.3 million. Combined, purses at those two tracks were up more than $10 million from the first quarter of 2002.

Santa Anita Park offered the highest first-quarter purses, $29.9 million, up from $27.5 million last year. Gulfstream Park was next with $25.4 million, up from $24.0 in 2002. Aqueduct, next at $20.2 million, was a shade lower than the $20.3 million paid out in 2002. Fair Grounds was also down marginally, from $16.5 million to $16.3 million.

The 1,242 racing days in the first quarter was down 1.8% from 2002 after 92 programs were lost because of weather-related problems. Pari-mutuel wagering showed "considerable resilience," said NTRA commissioner Tim Smith. "The figures for U.S. purses, with sustained growth over the first quarter of 2002, also are welcome and positive, especially under the circumstances."