09/29/2010 2:13PM

Arlington handle slumps


ARLINGTON HEIGHTS, Ill. – Betting on horse racing all over the country has declined this year, but for some reason, Arlington Park took the worst of things during its 2010 meet that ended Sunday. While ontrack business held relatively steady, out-of-state handle on the Arlington product cratered, and average daily all-sources handle went into free fall, dropping by almost 30 percent.

Arlington, racing 91 days compared with 98 in 2009, handled an average of $2,907,845 according to figures provided by the Illinois Racing Board. That number marked a decline of 27 percent from the all-sources daily average of $4,003,711 in 2009. Out-of-state handle on Arlington races averaged $2,189,310 during this meet compared with $3,228,821 in 2009, a drop of 32 percent. Average daily ontrack handle fell to $431,603 from $466,505 in 2010, a drop of 7 percent. Illinois legalized account wagering earlier this year, and a daily average of $56,685 was bet online on Arlington races during this meet. Account wagers, however, earn far less money for purses than do wagers made at the racetrack.

Arlington claimed an attendance rise of about 9 percent this year, but counted two well-attended performances by “American Idol” winner Lee DeWyze, a native of adjacent Mt. Prospect, in their attendance figures, though no bets were taken during the performances.

Arlington’s president, Roy Arnold, claimed that the track “had a very good meet” in 2010, citing unprecedented cooperation between the racetrack and the Illinois Thoroughbred Horsemen’s Association this year. The two parties worked together to manage an early-summer purse cut that scaled back both stakes and overnight purses. Average daily purses paid during 2010, including stakes, were about $245,000, Arnold said, compared to about $272,000 from 2006-2009. A second round of 2010 cuts was avoided in part by carding races with lower purses. Arnold attributed “changes in the national marketplace” for Arlington’s out-of-state betting declines.

During the 2009 meet, complaints about Arlington’s Polytrack surface were rampant, but there were fewer problems with the surface this year after it was pulled up, turned over, and re-laid on the track’s base during the offseason.

“It was virtually a nonissue this year,” said Arnold, who said the 2010 meet was among the safest for horses and riders in Arlington history. Still, Arlington ran a record number of grass races during 2010.

Wayne Catalano broke his own record for wins at an Arlington meet, sending out 75 winners during the 2010 season. Chicago newcomer Mike Baze won the riding title, while perennial leading owner Frank Calabrese too another Arlington owner’s crown.