After limping to a disappointing 2014, Thoroughbred racing’s wagering handle ticked a bit upwards in January 2015, according to data released by Equibase.

Wagering rose 1.5 percent in January 2015 versus the same month in 2014, up to more than $812 million.  That came despite a 2.75 percent decline in the number of races run during the month.

Racetrack operators in the United States ran 306 live cards in January, one more than a year ago, but the decline in the number of races contested  led to what perhaps was the biggest reason in the increased handle: a rise in the number of starters per race.  For the month, more than 8.3 horses faced the starter per race, nearly six percent higher than the 7.9 starters per race recorded in 2014.

Industry leaders will hope that January’s increase in handle presages a bounce-back year.  In 2014, handle on U.S. races continued a decade-long trend, dipping nearly three percent for the year, to a shade over $10.5 billion.  U.S. handle once exceeded $15 billion, a drop that represents a startling and troubling reversal of fortune for the industry.

For owners, the picture was somewhat less bright.  With the number of races down and the number of starters up — making races more difficult to win — purses also declined by nearly two percent, to just shy of $66 million for the month.  Though the purse per race was up slightly — just under one percent, to $25,913 — that rise was offset by the reduction in racedays and the increase in field size.

The data includes worldwide commingled wagering on U.S. races

IndicatorJan. 2015Pct. Change vs. 2014