•Owners benefit from increased purses in 2015, 2/11•
Good news for owners: Purses are still going up despite what looks like a downslide in racing. That’s because total handle has remained relatively steady, actually showing a slight uptick year over year, while the number of runners and the number of races has declined, which boosts key measures.
According to information from The Jockey Club, in North America in 2015, purses totaled $1.154 billion, up 1.4% from the $1.17 billion in purses won in 2014. The important average purse per race figure increased 4.3% from 2014, to $27,341, an all-time high.
Average purse was boosted by an approximate 1% increase in total handle in North America while the number of races declined by a rather dramatic 5.4% in 2015. There were 42,220 races last year, down from 44,640 races in 2014.
The number of runners in 2015 declined 3.3%, to 53,365. Again, because total purses increased, the average earnings per starter increased to $21,632, up 2% from the $21,208 average in 2014.
The average number of starts per runner in 2015 dipped to 6.18, down from 6.22 in 2014.
Stakes purses in 2015 totaled $296 million, or 25.7% of all purses, while the number of stakes, 2,072, accounted for just 4.9% of all races. Average purse in a stakes last year was $143,264.
•Kentucky Derby: Who's hot, who's not for Feb. 10 by Jay Privman, DRF, 2/10•
The undefeated Mohaymen is the favorite at 5-1 on the line set by Mike Watchmaker, Daily Racing Form’s national handicapper, for the inaugural Derby Watch top 20 of 2016. Mor Spirit, the winner of the Robert B. Lewis Stakes last Saturday, is next at 8-1, with Airoforce and Eclipse Award winner Nyquist co-third choices at 10-1. Remember that Derby Watch lists the 20 runners in order of Watchmaker’s future line. Bob Baffert, the trainer of Mor Spirit, and Chad Brown lead all trainers with three runners each among the top 20.
Both Baffert and Brown have shaky contenders on the list. Drefong, trained by Baffert, and Gift Box, trained by Brown, both have missed recent works, so unless they return quickly to the work tab, their places on the top 20 could be in jeopardy. Swipe, second in the Breeders’ Cup Juvenile and in two other Grade 1 races to Nyquist last year, did not make the cut because his first work of 2016 is not scheduled until Tuesday and his margin for error to make the Derby is razor thin.
ON THE BUBBLE
Uncle Lino, second to Mor Spirit in the Lewis, just missed the cut, as did Discreetness and Synchrony, the first- and third-place finishers in last month’s Smarty Jones Stakes at Oaklawn. Both Discreetness and Synchrony are scheduled to run Monday in the Southwest Stakes at Oaklawn, so progressive performances there could help them muscle their way onto the list. In addition to the Southwest, the only other points-scoring race this holiday weekend is the El Camino Real Derby on Saturday at Golden Gate.
•Turf Paradise to lift quarantine; 61 positives for equine herpesvirus at Sunland Park, 2/11•
The number of horses testing positive for the equine herpesvirus at Sunland Park in New Mexico continues to climb, but Turf Paradise in Arizona has announced plans to lift its quarantine at the end of next week after reporting to health officials that no horses have exhibited symptoms of the disease since a horse was euthanized nearly two weeks ago.
The New Mexico Livestock Board said Tuesday that 61 horses at Sunland Park have tested positive for equine herpesvirus, a highly contagious disease that can sometimes prove fatal. The Equine Disease Communication Center had reported Monday that 56 horses had tested positive at the track, which has ceased racing as it tries to get the disease under control.
Sunland Park has not raced since Jan. 22, after the first batch of horses began testing positive at the track. The EDCC said on Monday that the virus is affecting 20 barns at the track. Under normal protocols, a quarantine cannot be lifted until at least 21 days after the last horse tests positive at the track or displays symptoms of the disease. Sunland’s biggest race by far is the $800,000 Sunland Park Derby, scheduled for March 20.
The EDCC said the quarantine at Turf Paradise will be lifted Feb. 18. A notice from the center said that no horses at Turf Paradise have shown any indications of the disease since the track closed its backstretch Jan. 27, shortly after a horse who had shipped in from Sunland began exhibiting neurological symptoms consistent with the herpesvirus while in quarantine.
Turf Paradise has continued to race while under quarantine. A number of tracks across the Southwest and South have imposed bans on horses shipping in from both Turf Paradise and Sunland.