HANDLE NUMBERS MAY NOT BE WHAT THEY SEEM

by | 11.17.2010 | 12:47am

By Ray Paulick

I hate to rain on Equibase and the National Thoroughbred Racing Association's bad news parade, but there was some good news in horse racing's monthly economic indicators released on Thursday.

Average daily handle for the month of February increased by 4.80% in comparison to 2009 figures. Average daily purses were up by 4.29% in February. Year-to-date figures for average daily handle are virtually dead-even (down 0.14%), as is the number for average daily purses (plus 0.81%).

Those are signs, like the few glimmers of hope in the general economy, that our worst days may be behind us.

Why, then, did Equibase and NTRA only report the bad news, that gross wagering and purses were down double digits? The business figures compiled by Equibase make things look terribly bleak: gross handle down 13% in February and purses down 13.43% from 2010, and year-to-date figures down 12.51% and 11.67% in those respective categories.

They include the total number of racing days for February and for the year to date, which show drastic declines of 16.99% and 12.38%. We are not going to increase gross handle with we run nearly 17% fewer race days. Those gross numbers do not tell the complete picture, and an organization like the NTRA should be doing a better job of interpreting its own economic indicators.

The good news about February and handle comes on the heels of Fasig-Tipton's successful sale of 2-year-olds in training at Calder race course in South Florida.

There has been severe weather this year in many parts of the country, reducing the number of race days because of cancellations. But some tracks are simply running fewer live dates, a trend that we'll see more and more of going forward.

The days being dropped intentionally by racetracks are going to be weekdays when handle and purses are lower, so it's logical to expect average daily numbers to increase when weekend cards represent 50% of the week's action on a four-day racing week instead of 40% on a five-day week. Del Mar saw its average daily numbers increase last year when the Southern California track dropped its Monday programs.

So, part of this increase in average betting and purses for February is likely due to the loss of more weekday programs than weekends. The message here is that less can be more.

Call me a contrarian, since other publications focused on the negatives—the drop in gross purses and handle. However, I'm willing to take any scrap of good news I can find these days.

 

Copyright © 2010, The Paulick Report

 

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