Wagering gains stall in August; purses still lagging

By: Tom LaMarra

Posted: Sept. 5, 2020

With commingled pari-mutuel handle on United States Thoroughbred races down 1.92% in August versus the same month in 2019, total wagering for the first eight months of 2020 has dropped 6.20% year over year, according to the Thoroughbred Racing Economic Indicators released by Equibase Sept. 4.

Purses, meanwhile, fell 18.53% in August 2020 versus August 2019, and from January through August of this year were down 33.10% compared with the same period last year.

Total handle in August was $1.154 billion compared with $1.177 billion a year ago with 10.41% fewer races (3,607 versus 4,026). Average number of horses per race in August was 7.48, an increase of 4.16% a year ago.

Average handle per race for August 2020 was $320,078, up 9.46% from $292,390 for August 2019. January-through-August average wagering per race was $410,778, up from 32.97% from $308,907 last year.

U.S. handle in July was up 16.63% from July 2019. Purse in July were down 12.69% from a year ago.

Purses in August totaled $104.51 million compared with $128.29 million in August 2019, according to the statistics. For the first eight months of this year, purses totaled $518.90 million, down 33.10% from $775.63 million for the first eight months of 2019. During that same period, the number of races was down 29.46%, from 25,225 last year to 17,793 this year.

It’s possible U.S. purses in 2020 will fall below the $1 billion mark for the first time since 1999, when purses totaled $962.9 million, according to The Jockey Club Fact Book. The high point was $1.18 billion in 2007; in 2019 the figure was $1.16 billion.

Most racetracks in the U.S. were shut down from mid-March through late May because of COVID-19.