Experience has shown that horse players typically bet more when a race has a full field of entries.  Yet average field size in the United States and Canada has been gradually declining.  For example, average field size was 8.21 in 2000, 8.17 in 2007, and 7.85 in 2013.

At least two factors contribute to the drop.

First, the metric for average number of starts per runner has been sliding for over half a century.  To illustrate, it was 11.31 in 1960, 7.10 in 2000, and 6.32 in 2013.  Second, the North American foal crop has fallen precipitously, from 44,143 in 1990 to 37,755 in 2000 and about 22,000 in 2014.

The number of races offered has adjusted downward to address the problem of short field sizes.   In 2000, for instance, North American racetracks ran 62,877 races and by 2013 the number had fallen to 48,580.  However, there evidently are still too many races, as indicated by the continuing attrition in field sizes.

For purposes of comparison, consider that there are fewer Thoroughbred racetracks in the United States and Canada than there are the 122 teams that comprise the four major professional sports leagues.  Major League Baseball, the National Football League, the National Basketball Association, and the National Hockey League combined play 5,146 games during their regular seasons (preseason and playoff games constitute a relatively small percentage of regular season games).

By contrast, racetracks offer close to nine times as many races.  Importantly, the professional sports leagues all take a lengthy offseason hiatus, whereas some racetracks operate nearly year around.  Fans’ attention spans start to flag when too much of even a good thing is presented.  A racetrack’s best bet for stimulating interest and increasing pari-mutuel handle is to offer customers fewer races, present fuller fields, and have meaningful between-meet breaks.

Copyright © 2015 the Blood-Horse LLC.  Used with permission.

I’ve just starting using Twitter to alert readers when a new article has been posted.  If you want to be notified, my Twitter account is William Shanklin @HorseRacingBusi


  1. Jamie Nicholson says

    This point cannot be overstated. It would be foolish for the NFL to extend its teams’ schedules to, say, 30 games per year. Similarly, it is terribly short sighted of American racing jurisdictions to run 50,000 races annually.