09/07/2010 11:06AM

Average all-sources handle up more than 200 percent at Monmouth meet

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Average daily all-sources handle at Monmouth Park for the New Jersey track’s 49-day “Elite Summer Meet” shot up 213 percent over last year, according to figures released by the track Monday night after the meet’s final card.

The gain in average handle, from $2.54 million during last year’s 82-day meet to $7.95 million this year, catapulted Monmouth into the upper echelon of the summer racing season behind Saratoga Race Course in upstate New York ($13.8 million in average daily handle) and Del Mar Thoroughbred Club near San Diego ($11.7 million for the first five weeks of the meet). During the meet, Monmouth distributed $797,079 a day in average purses, tops in the nation.

In total, betting for the 49-day meet was $389.6 million, an 87 percent gain over total wagering during the 82-day meet last year of $208.4 million.

Monmouth’s owner, the New Jersey Sports and Exposition Authority, and the state’s horsemen decided this year to cut the track’s summer race meet from five days a week to three days a week while using a $17 million subsidy from Atlantic City casinos to prop up purses. Provisions in the agreement providing for the subsidy expire this year.

The decision appeared to pay off, at least in the metrics traditionally used to gauge success. With race cards held exclusively on Fridays, weekends, and holidays, average daily attendance rose 47 percent to 10,651, while on-track daily average handle rose 79 percent to $766,506. Enriched purses had a significant impact on field size, a number that jumped 25 percent to 9.28 horses per race, up from 7.44 last year.

“We were cautiously optimistic that this kind of boutique meet would work,” said Dennis Robinson, the president of the authority, in a release accompanying the figures. “But I don’t think any of us expected a blockbuster like this. The fans and the horsemen made this a meeting to remember.”

The question now is whether the meet’s success can be replicated next year. The casinos have indicated that they are not willing to subsidize racing in the state because of their own financial problems, and earlier this summer, a commission put together by Gov. Chris Christie to examine gambling in New Jersey recommended that the state no longer offer financial support to racetracks and consider closing or selling the Meadowlands, a dual-purpose facility also owned by the authority

According to an earlier report, the authority’s racing operations lost $13 million in 2009, a number disputed by some racing officials in the state but one that has been highlighted by opponents of racing subsidies.

Although the “elite summer meet” closed after Labor Day, Monmouth is scheduled to resume racing on Sept. 11 with a 20-day meet offering $375,000 a day in average purses through Nov. 11, in lieu of a traditional fall Thoroughbred meet at the Meadowlands. Race cards will only be held on Saturdays, Sundays, and some holidays. Last year during the 82-day meet, purses averaged approximately $330,000 a day.