By Bill Finley
The total amount wagered on U.S. races in July saw a 16.63% increase over 2019 figures, the best month the sport has had this year and a sign that the effects of the coronavirus are no longer negatively impacting handle. The July handle of $1,098,728 was the first $1 billion-plus monthly handle on the year.
Prior to the release of the figures, there had already been signs that July was going to be a good month. The handle for GI Haskell S. day at Monmouth was over $20 million, the most that track has handled outside of the Breeders’ Cup. NYRA reported that handle at Saratoga for the opening weekend was up 9.4%.
The July numbers were a welcome sign after handle was battered by coronavirus shutdowns in March, April and May. Handle was down at least 22% all three months and fell by 30.16% in May, which, in a normal year, would have included the GI Kentucky Derby and GI Preakness S. Those races have been postponed until later this year.
Thanks in large part to the July numbers, total handle is down only 6.96% on the year.
The number of races run during the month and the number of race days remained on the decline. There were 3,290 races, a 12.35% drop off from last year, and 484 race days, a 17.77% decrease. But wagering on the races that were run was robust. The average amount wagered per race day was $2,761,165, a 41.83% increase.
Average field size also inched up. It was 7.97 starters per race versus 7.4 in July, 2019.
Perhaps the only negative news in the figures released Wednesday by Equibase came in the category of total purses. They were $90,224,084 in July, down 12.69% from last year. But average purses per race day was up, by 6.17%. For the year, purses are down $233 million or 35.99%.