08/27/2014 2:16PM

All-sources handle improves, but still down 15 percent

Coady Photography
Mister Marti Gras heads a field of six for Satjurday's Grade 3 Washington Park Handicap at 1 1/8 miles..

ARLINGTON HEIGHTS, Ill. – Arlington’s all-sources average daily handle has declined about 15 percent during the first 66 days of its 2014 racing season compared with the same period in 2013. The number is not good, but the track actually has rebounded over the last two months after experiencing even sharper early-meet handle declines.

All-sources average daily handle through last Saturday was $2,620,191 compared with $3,091,451 during the same period last year, according to figures provided by the Illinois Racing Board. Average daily ontrack handle is down 4 percent, from $409,590 in 2013 to $394,558, while out-of-state simulcast and advance-deposit wagering on Arlington fell 17 percent, from $2,447,132 during the first 66 days of the 2013 meet to $2,034,516 so far this summer.

Handle was down more than 24 percent in May, causing Arlington to cut purses. Purses were trimmed again earlier this summer before betting began to stabilize somewhat.

“We made up about 8 percentage points from the bottom,” said track general manager Tony Petrillo.

Petrillo said field size has been the main driver of betting decline, and indeed, Arlington is averaging only 7.62 starters per race this summer compared with 7.91 in 2013 and 8.18 in 2012. Races on Polytrack this meet have averaged a paltry 7.24 starters per race.

But the handle drop, which comes after a 7 percent all-sources handle decline from 2012 to 2013, almost certainly has multiple motivating factors. Gulfstream Park, a popular simulcast signal, is running a summer meet for the first time. Also, a group of horseplayers has been boycotting all Churchill Downs Inc.-owned properties, including Arlington, since Churchill raised takeout at its spring meet. Takeout was not raised at Arlington this year.

The 2014 meet began May 2 and ends Sept. 28.

Just six for Washington Park Handicap

Saturday’s feature, the Grade 3, $150,000 Washington Park Handicap, will do nothing to help the field-size numbers, as just six horses were entered in the 1 1/8-mile Polytrack race for older horses.

The field, from the rail out, consists of Fordubai, Gimmeadrink, Mister Marti Gras, Avanzare, Only in America, and Hattash.

Mister Marti Gras easily is the most accomplished runner in the group and accordingly is the 121-pound starting highweight, spotting his rivals between four and eight pounds. Mister Marti Gras, a 7-year-old, will be making his fourth appearance in the Washington Park. He won it in 2011, was second in 2012, and finished fourth last year.

Graham’s lead grows

James Graham has opened a little distance on Florent Geroux in the race for leading rider at the Arlington meet. Through Sunday, Graham had won 77 races, nine more than Geroux. Manny Esquivil was a distant third in the standings with 46 winners.

The trainers’ race is all but over, with Larry Rivelli leading Mike Stidham, 45 wins to 29, entering Thursday’s action.