Churchill Fall Meet Handle Declines
Photo: Anne M. Eberhardt

Total wagering during the recently concluded 21-day fall meet at Churchill Downs fell 3.9%, with a large portion of the difference coming during the two-day Breeders’ Cup World Championships.

According to figures obtained from the Kentucky Horse Racing Commission, all-source handle totaled $270.3 million during the meet that ended Nov. 27, compared with $281.4 million in 2010. Of the $11.1 million decline in handle in 2011 when compared with the previous year, $8.1 million came during the Nov. 4-5 Breeders’ Cup.

Excluding the Breeders’ Cup figures for both years, Churchill’s all-source handle totaled $114.9 million this year, down 2.5% from the $117.8 million figure in 2010.

Like all Churchill Downs, Inc.-owned tracks, the flagship track in Louisville does not release wagering or attendance figures, except for special events, but those numbers are generally available through reports that are required to be filed with regulators.

Although handle declined during the meet, the percentage decrease was not nearly as much as the nationwide decline of 7.47% through October, the latest month for which the economic indicators are available from Equibase. (The figures through November will be released in early December.)

Churchill officials declined to discuss the handle figures.

Although average runners per race declined from 9.88 in 2010 to 9.51 this year, the number is still well ahead of the national average of 8.04 runners per race through November, according to The Jockey Club Information Systems.

As is usually the case during the Churchill fall meet, juvenile races helped sustain the racing program. Of the 224 races contested during the meet, 71 (31.7%) were for 2-year-olds, with an average 10.27 runners per 2-year-old race. Racing 2-year-olds at Churchill provides some trainers with a barometer for which horses like the track as they prepare for the following year’s 3-year-old season and the Kentucky Derby Presented by Yum! Brands (gr. I).

The Churchill meet began on a strong note Oct. 30 when all-source handle soared by 39.9% to $5,829,055 from $2,325,869 the previous year. Wagering on the Churchill card that day likely benefitted from the final day of the Belmont Park meet being cancelled due to a winter storm that hit the Northeast.

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