Handle Up Again, Purses Way Up in November

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Racing at Del MarBenoit

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Betting on U.S. Thoroughbred races was up again year over year in November 2021, while the industry saw a major spike in purses for the month, according to figures released by Equibase Monday. The numbers continue the positive economic trends the sport has seen this year as it slowly emerges from the toll taken by the pandemic.

A total of $961,813,331 was wagered on U.S. races in November, up 7.4% from the November 2020 figure of $895,546,532. The November 2021 number is more flat when compared with November 2019, when $945,843,009 was wagered, but total handle for 2021 has now surpassed $11.4 billion, which is a jump of 12.18% over the total through November in 2020 and a 10.49% improvement on the number from the end of November in 2019. Wagering on U.S. races is likely to top $12 billion by the end of the year, a total that hasn't been reached since 2009, according to statistics from The Jockey Club.

If there is a small caveat to the positive handle numbers, it is that wagering per race day was down significantly in November at $3,305,200, a 17.33% decrease from $3,997,976 in November 2020, and for the year average wagering per race day stands at $2,986,058, a drop of 9.78% from $3,309,845 at this point in 2020. Compared to 2019, however, the 2021 numbers are still a drastic improvement, with the November figure representing a 12.04% jump and the year-to-date number showing a 20.67% increase.

Purses have also seen a dramatic improvement in 2021, although those figures are more of a reversion to the mean of 2019 as opposed to meaningful improvements on pre-pandemic levels. A total of $117,678,625 was paid out this November, a 27.78% improvement on the November 2020 number of $92,095,830, but just a 1.66% increase from the November 2019 total of $115,756,315. For the year, purses have totaled just over $1.1 billion, a huge 36.17% increase from the pandemic-affected number of $812,236,796 through November in 2020, but the 2021 number is essentially flat compared to 2019's purse figures through November.

Field size continues to be a bugaboo for the industry, as average number of horses per race was 7.7 in November, a drop of 7.79% from 8.35 in November 2020, and for the year the number is just 7.33, a 7.34% decrease from 7.91 in 2020. Field size averaged 8 and 7.49 for the month and year, respectively, at this point in 2019.

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