02/04/2011 4:40PM

Aqueduct's overall handle down in January

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OZONE PARK, N.Y. – While Aqueduct enjoyed a significant spike in on-track business in January, daily average total handle on its races was down nearly 10 percent in the first full month of business since the closing of New York City Off-Track Betting Corp.

According to figures released Friday by the New York Racing Association, daily average all-sources handle on Aqueduct’s races in January was $5,818,775, down 9.97 percent from January 2010, when it was $6,463,332. Total handle on Aqueduct’s races in January was $110,556,716, down 18.55 percent from 2010 when it was $135,729,965. There were 19 racing days and 171 races conducted in January this year, compared with 21 racing days and 183 races conducted in January 2010.

The closure of OTB prompted major increases in attendance and ontrack handle. Daily average attendance for January was 4,510, a 44.78 increase over 3,115 in January 2010. Daily average ontrack handle on Aqueduct’s races in January was $785,588, a 46.26-percent increase from the $537,118 handled on track in January 2010.

New York City OTBs handle on Aqueduct’s races in January 2010 was $15.8 million. New york City OTB shut for good on Dec. 8 after legislation that would have helped the company emerge from Chapter 9 bankruptcy failed to pass the State Senate.

Since NYRA is able to keep a higher percentage of money wagered ontrack than off, the $25 million loss in total handle is not as bad as it might look. NYRA did not, however, release any figures on its profits and losses for the month.

NYRA’s ontrack business was aided by its ability to develop and improve its own advanced deposit wagering service, with live video-streaming of its races on the Internet and a boon of sign-ups in its NYRA Rewards program.

Phone and Internet wagering through NYRA Rewards in January on races from Aqueduct as well as out of state, was $3,115,129, a 99-percent increase from last year’s figure of $1,564,688. Also, NYRA opened up its own OTB parlor of sorts at Belmont Park where attendance was 6,243 and total handle was $2,364,784 for 30 days.

“Most of the signs are pretty encouraging,” a NYRA spokesman, Dan Silver, said. “We’re happy with the account wagering numbers and the phone and Internet. Obviously, $15.8 million from OTB in January is a lot to try and fill. We’re encouraged but we still got a long way to go.”

Silver did say that based on January’s figures there are no plans to alter racing dates or purses for the foreseeable future.

Backside may close for a while

NYRA officials have had preliminary discussions with horsemen stabled at Aqueduct about the prospect of moving their horses to Belmont Park for a period of six to eight weeks to allow for uninterrupted morning construction of the casino at the Big A.

There are approximately 350 horses currently stabled at Aqueduct.

With the recent addition of a night crew, construction on the casino is basically happening around the clock. Outside work usually stops, however, during training hours, which are 5:30 a.m. to 9 a.m. Tuesdays through Sundays – as well as during the races. There is no training on Monday. Outside work includes the dismantling of the three-tiered grandstand, which will ultimately turn into a patio where casino patrons will be able to walk outside and watch races.

Horsemen based at Aqueduct would prefer to stay where they are and at least try to deal with any excess noise the construction may bring.

“Everybody would like to be as cooperative as possible,” said trainer Rick Violette, president of the New York Thoroughbred Horseman’s Association who has about 40 horses stabled at Aqueduct. “If it’s too much for the horses to handle, if the noise and activity is going to create a dangerous situation, that’s not something we would want to put the horses and riders in.”

Violette said that moving from Aqueduct to Belmont involves more than simply moving horses. There are employees who live on the grounds at Aqueduct, and some comforts of already-established offices – phone, Internet, and security capability – would be hard to duplicate at Belmont.

“There are a lot of things that you’d like not to have to give up if you can avoid it,” said Violette, who added that horsemen stabled at Aqueduct during the winter enjoy “a home-court advantage.”