March (and Year to Date) race trends (and then some)

OK, ours is an admittedly idiosyncratic take on the data. Because we have other stuff to do, you know? So we didn’t really want to run numbers on race cancellations because, unlike February, the weather didn’t seem quite as disruptive.

On the other hand, with Q1 in the books, we were curious to do some Year-to-Date comparisons.

As usual, North American Thoroughbred racing only…

Races Run

3325 races were run in March, down from 3397 in March of last year. So not really notable. Even going back to March 2010, it’s been only a 5.7% decrease in number of races, when comparing Marches. Yes, 10 years ago, things were different, but we just have a hard time getting excited about this particular data set–as a standalone item.

Starters/Field Size

Total starters (meaning, of course, 1 horse could start multiple times in the month) data: 24,628 this March vs. 26,856 last March. This is a meaningful decline, we think, in that average field size decreased .5% (that’s A LOT! More on that later in the post). March 2013, average field size was 7.91. This March it was 7.41. As discussed, the likely cause is foal crop size reduction…coupled with race tracks running roughly the same amount of races.

Q1 2014 in sum

  • Number of races run: 8357 vs 8563 last year. Given the terrible weather the first couple of months of this year vs last, we’re really not seeing a racing industry shrinking much in terms of number of races run.
  • Total Starters (again, including multiple starts by the same horse) : 63,385 vs 68,817 last year.
  • Average field size: 7.64, vs 8.04 last year.

Question: Does Field Size Matter?

Everyone says it matters, and we keep writing about it. And of course it does matter. Still, given the trend of shrinking field size, we thought it would be valuable to look at the numbers. Hypothesis: People (including us) make way too big a deal of field size, and really, the difference between a 6-or 7-or 8-horse field just doesn’t mean much, in terms of the amount people wager. Reality, for Q1 of this year:


OK, that’s a pretty graph, but we’re going to have to share the raw data, below, and include the full year of 2014 beneath it.

2014 Q1

Screen Shot 2014-04-02 at 12.14.02 PM








2013 Full Year

Screen Shot 2014-04-02 at 12.06.42 PM

As you can see, in either Q1 or all of last year, the difference between a 9 & 10- horse field really doesn’t seem to matter much to bettors in the Win/Place/Show pools. There are a couple of other outliers based on small sample sizes, we believe. But in general, you get the drift. 5-horse fields or less are terrible for handle. At 10 horses and larger, handle takes off into the stratosphere (by domestic standards).


1) Q1 Racing means less racing but higher class racing, thus the bigger WPS pools vs 2013 as a whole.

2) The huge handle numbers around 14-horse fields are likely influenced by race class, meaning 14-horse fields are typically going to be higher class races, which get extra attention from players anyway.

3) Win/Place/Show represents about 30% of all domestic handle. While it’s a lovely proxy, in the future we’ll run these numbers on exotic bets as well. There should be an even stronger correlation between exotics and field size.

4) We welcome your observations, of course.



This entry was posted in Data Studies. Bookmark the permalink.


Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s