Anyone who currently wagers on horse races is aware of the small field sizes currently offered at most racetracks, and that the thoroughbred racing industry has been suffering from a shortage of horses across North America for many, many years. According to The Jockey Club, there were 40,333 thoroughbreds registered in the United States in 1990. Between the years 1991 and 2008, the numbers included a high of 38,151 and a low of 31,884, the average being 33889. The numbers have continued to decline since 2009 (29,556); 2010 (25,808); 2011 (23,150*); 2012 (22,500*); 2013 (22,500*).
These numbers relate directly to field size. In 2010, an average of 8.19 horses started each race. In 1990, the average was 8.91 horses per field. That difference seems almost insignificant until you dig a little deeper. In 1990, there were 72,664 horse races run in the United States, which included a total of 712,494 starters. In 2010, only 46,379 races took place, with 417,192 starters total. So, not only have field sizes become smaller, but there are fewer races carded, as well. I remember when Santa Anita carded nine, sometimes ten races six days per week. During the last meet, they raced only four days a week, with eight or nine races per day, and many races were contested with only four or five entrants.
Also contributing to the decline in field size is the unwillingness of trainers to run their horses. In 1950, when The Jockey Club first started tracking such numbers, horses started an average of 10.91 times per year; once every four to five weeks. In 1990, the average number of starts for a race horse was 7.94; once every six weeks. By 2010, the average was down to 6.11; once every two months. Is it any wonder then that wagering in 2011 hit an all time low? If tracks cannot card decent fields, how can they expect to cultivate new bettors?