09/30/2014 1:00PM

Arlington meet closes with 19 percent dip in handle


ARLINGTON HEIGHTS, Ill. – Average daily all-sources handle at the Arlington 2014 meet that ended Sunday declined more than 19 percent compared with the 2013 season, another blow to an increasingly battered Chicago racing circuit.

Total handle for the 89-day meet was $213,418,428, for a daily average of $2,397,960, down from 2013 meet totals of $264,813,352 gross and $2,975,431 average daily handle, a year-over-year drop of 19.4 percent.

The decline came predominantly from out-of-state betting on Arlington, which fell more sharply than ontrack handle, down 11.3 percent from a daily average of $605,141 in 2013 to $536,328 this year.

The handle decline set in early, with betting during May and early June off almost 25 percent compared with the previous season. Arlington was forced to cut purses then and cut them a second time when handle failed to sufficiently rebound. The track attributed the decline to short fields and new simulcast competition from the popular Gulfstream signal, but a horseplayers’ group also urged an Arlington boycott as part of a larger protest against the takeout policies of Churchill Downs Inc., Arlington’s parent company.

Whatever the motivating factors, the fall in betting on Arlington races during the last half-decade has been catastrophic. Average daily all-sources handle during the 2009 meet was $4,003,711; handle has since fallen about 40 percent.

Field size was indeed down this meet at 7.63 starters per race, and even turf races, of which there were 277 this season, produced only 8.42 starters on average. An average of 8.77 horses ran in 300 turf races during 2013, while overall field size was 7.91 starters per race. Interestingly, in 2009, when the season’s handle was 40 percent higher than this year, Arlington averaged only 7.63 starters per race.

Arlington’s Polytrack main track sometimes is criticized for producing highly unpredictable results, but favorites won over it at a healthy 37 percent clip at this meet, compared with just 31 percent winning favorites in turf races.

Year-over-year attendance was fairly stable, falling from an average of 8,925 last year to 8,505.

James Graham won his second Arlington jockey title with 101 wins, while runner-up Florent Geroux had 82 wins. Larry Rivelli ran away with the training title with 59 wins, compared with 36 for runners-up Chris Block and Tammy Domenosky.