Despite the betting bonanza that is the Breeders’ Cup, November’s Thoroughbred betting handle dipped more than 6% from its 2019 numbers according to Equibase’s monthly report on Economic Indicators in Thoroughbred Racing.

Knicks Go-Nov Economic Indicators
Knicks Go’s record-setting win in the Breeders’ Cup Dirt Mile marked one of November’s racing highlights. Even with the Breeders’ Cup showcase, handle dipped slightly during the month year over year. (Image: Eclipse Sportswire)

The drop can be attributed to an 8% dip in Breeders’ Cup handle from its record numbers in 2019 as COVID-19 kept fans away from the track for one of North America’s racing showcases. You can also blame a nearly 31% drop in November overall race days, from 324 last year to 224 this year.

While most numbers remain down across the board – a product of COVID-19 closing tracks and keeping spectators away – overall 2020 wagering is down only 1.48% from its 2019 totals. That, despite a 24.52% drop in races run from 2019. Through November, US tracks ran 8,346 fewer races this year compared to 2019.

This translates into some positive numbers, which has been the economic trend in this COVID-19 era. Average wagering per day continued its monthly climb, jumping 33.8%, as bettors armed with advance deposit wagering apps found action wherever and whenever they could. This means bettors in California could get wagers down on races in New York or Kentucky without walking outside their front doors. Similarly, bettors in New York could play races at Belmont without visiting the track.

Purses, Races Follow Betting Handle Down Again

November numbers reflected this downward trend. Purses were down more than 20% as tracks shuffled their limited revenue streams to claiming and allowance races, and away from stakes. Races were down nearly 29%, even with Del Mar running more races during its Bing Crosby Season. As a result, starts dropped more than 25%.

Thoroughbred Economic Indicators — November 2020

Indicator November 2020 November 2019 Change
Wagering on US Races* $895,325,220 $955,842,009 -6.33%
US Purses $92,058,080 $115,756,315 -20.47%
US Race Days 224 324 -30.86%
US Races 1,945 2,730 -28.75%
US Starts 16,236 21,839 -25.66%
Average Field Size 8.35 8.00 +4.35%
Average Wagering Per Race Day $3,996,988 $2,950,133 +35.49
Average Purses Per Race Day $410,974 $357,273 +15.03

* Indicates worldwide commingled wagering on US races

Source: Equibase

All this, however, reflected more positives. November field sizes averaged 8.35, up 4.35% from 2019. Average wagering per race day blew up nearly 35.5%. This helped stem what could have been massive drops in betting handles, considering the lack of spectators at most tracks.

Looking at December, expect this trend to continue across the statistical board. Gulfstream Park already set a handle record for its Claiming Crown series. Santa Anita Park opens the day after Christmas with a stakes-loaded slate that includes three Grade 1s.

Even Small Tracks Like Los Alamitos Enjoy Bigger Fields

Field sizes should also continue rising. Los Alamitos, which runs a limited Thoroughbred schedule in December, welcomed refugee horses from Golden Gate Fields. That Northern California track closed last month due to a COVID-19 outbreak on its backstretch. It remains closed through at least Dec. 26.

As a result, the normally small Los Alamitos fields are up by more than 25% with the Golden Gate Fields invaders.

Thoroughbred Economic Indicators — 2020 vs. 2019

Indicator YTD 2020 YTD 2019 Change
Wagering on US Races* $10,173,203,539 $10,326,096,192 -1.48%
US Purses $812,146,506 $1,101,605,086 -26.28%
US Race Days 3,073 4,173 -26.36%
US Races 25,692 34,038 -24.52%
US Starts 203,122 254,992 -20.34%
Average Field Size 7.91 7.49 +5.54
Average Wagering Per Race Day $3,310,512 $2,474,502 +33.78%
Average Purses Per Race Day $264,285 $263,984 +0.11%

* Indicates worldwide commingled wagering on US races

Source: Equibase

Equibase normally issues its Economic Indicators in Thoroughbred Racing report quarterly, but is currently issuing them monthly due to the COVID-19 pandemic.