06/12/2014 2:47PM

Arlington cuts purses in response to handle decline

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ARLINGTON HEIGHTS, Ill. – Arlington Park instituted an across-the-board purse cut beginning last weekend due to a sharp year-to-year drop in all-sources handle.

Purses here were cut from $2,500 at the top end of the purse scale to $500 at the bottom end.

“We hope that this is temporary,” said Arlington general manager Tony Petrillo.

All-sources average daily handle at Arlington declined sharply in May. During the first 16 days of the meet, May 2-26 (the most recent numbers available from the Illinois Racing Board; Arlington, per Churchill Downs Inc. policy, doesn’t publicize business figures), average daily all-sources handled fell 24.4 percent compared with the same period last year, from $2,981,056 to $2,253,241.

The bulk of the decline came from out-of-state bets placed on Arlington races. That type of betting dropped 27 percent, from $2,368,134 per day during the same period in 2013 to $1,738,881 this year.

“The way the season started really took us by surprise,” Petrillo said.

Petrillo attributed the handle decline to short fields at Arlington. So far this meet, from May 2 through June 8, Arlington has averaged 7.5 starters per race, down from 8.1 during the same period in 2013. Starters per turf race has dropped from 9.08 early in the 2013 meet to 8.38 in grass races this year. Additionally, a late spring forced Arlington to commence grass racing several days after the meet began, and there have been only 58 grass races this season, compared with 80 during the same period last year.

Attendance and ontrack handle have been the bright spots this season.

“We hope that ontrack will pick up the slack and that things will have improved by July,” said Petrillo.