Horses

Thoroughbred betting down $903 million in 2010

The $1 million Breeders' Cup Dirt Mile (won by Dakota Phone, center) was part of a big day for racing at Churchill Downs on Nov. 6. Betting was up on the Breeders' Cup but wagering overall in 2010 continued to decline.
The $1 million Breeders' Cup Dirt Mile (won by Dakota Phone, center) was part of a big day for racing at Churchill Downs on Nov. 6. Betting was up on the Breeders' Cup but wagering overall in 2010 continued to decline.

Betting on Thoroughbred racing in the United States was down $903 million last year, a slide of 7.33 percent, according to figures released Wednesday by The Jockey Club.

About $11.4 billion was bet in 2010 on U.S. horse races, the lowest amount since 1995.

Despite the losses, the slide was an improvement over the $1.3 billion plunge in 2009.

"While these numbers are no cause for celebration, it seems that this year's wagering drop was much more a function of the decline in racing days," said Alex Waldrop, president and CEO of the National Thoroughbred Racing Association, in a statement.

In 2010, horses raced for less money in fewer races: purses were down 6.07 percent to $1.03 billion, and the number of race days in the U.S. was down 7.75 percent to 5,473.

Horse racing has struggled in the wake of the economic downturn, and betting has fallen off almost $3.8 billion since the 2003 peak of almost $15.2 billion.

And public image problems — including the deaths of high-profile racehorses Barbaro and Eight Belles — have driven away fans.

But in 2010, Zenyatta drew many new fans to the sport, buoying Breeders' Cup TV ratings and attendance at Churchill Downs, where the championships were held in October. Betting on the Breeders' Cup races was up, but overall betting continued to slide all year.

In December, betting slumped 9.31 percent to $679 million. Purses were down 3.74 percent for the month, to $56.5 million, and the number of race days was down 5.42 percent to 314.

Chris Scherf, executive vice president of the Thoroughbred Racing Associations of North America, said there is strong interest in major races but that without full fields the industry can't translate that into daily gains.

"Obviously, we are losing bettors to other forms of gambling. We are in the midst of an unmanaged, market-driven contraction touching most aspects of the racing business," Scherf said.

"The declining number of horses mandates past racing schedules will not be sustainable if we want to present an attractive wagering entertainment to the public," he said. "Yet tracks and horsemen need a certain minimum amount of live racing to sustain racing in each market locale; that is the dilemma we are facing."

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