02/06/2012 2:10PM

Aqueduct business off to strong start in 2012

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OZONE PARK, N.Y. – Good weather and a slight increase in field size have led to a strong opening month of 2012 business-wise for the New York Racing Association.

Ontrack handle on Aqueduct’s races was $16,136,236, up 8.1 percent over $14,926,169 in 2011. The average daily ontrack handle of $806,811 is up 2.7 percent from a year ago.

Total handle, including wagering from simulcast outlets, on Aqueduct’s races is up 6.6 percent to $117,841,942 from $110,556,714 wagered last year. Average daily total handle is up 1.2 percent.

There was one more day of racing this January than in 2011 which translated to 10 more races. Average field size is up to 7.77 from 7.55 a year ago.

In 2011, there were three weather-related cancellations – all weekdays – in January. This year, there has been one, a Saturday.

Despite unseasonably warm weather, attendance in 2012 is down to 83,384 from 85,682. Last year, at this time, NYRA was operating buses to bring fans to the track in the wake of the closure of New York City Off-Track Betting Corp.

“The good news is we had a very good month, we were stronger at the end of the month than the beginning so it’s encouraging,” NYRA president and CEO Charles Hayward said. “As we discussed many times the racing from last year we had to improve over and I think we’ve demonstrated that’s the case.”

With money coming in from the recently opened casino, purses have increased by 36 percent here this winter compared with 2011. A second purse increase is expected to kick in when Belmont opens on April 27.

February has already gotten off to a strong start for NYRA. In 2011, the first-two racing days of the month were canceled due to snow. Last Friday and Saturday, total handle was up 24 and 25 percent, respectively, over corresponding days in 2011. There were 10 races run Saturday versus nine on the corresponding Saturday in 2011.