10/29/2003 1:00AM

Average handle dips for meeting

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EDMONTON, Alberta - The 2003 summer Thoroughbred meet came to a close last Sunday at Northlands Park with plenty of questions still to be answered concerning the long-term stability of the industry in Alberta.

Originally, the meet was scheduled to conclude in early September to make way for construction crews to begin a $40-million renovation to expand the track to 6 1/2 furlongs, but after those plans were scrapped, Horse Racing Alberta and Northlands Park agreed to extend the meet by six days.

The 74-day meet opened June 20, and the total handle from all sources, including simulcast betting and the live handle, was $22,002,839, an increase of $700,000 over last season

But, with six additional race dates, an average of $297,336 was wagered for each card, down 5 percent from last year's average of $313,089.

The biggest question facing the industry in Alberta is whether new facilities are going to be built, particularly in Calgary, where track license applications for 2004 are due by Friday.

If a new facility is requested and approved in Calgary, then the likelihood is that Northlands Park will soon move ahead with the expansion plans that were scheduled for this year, assuming financing can be put in place.

If no one steps up to the plate in Calgary, which has been the case each of the past four years, then the Alberta Thoroughbred season will begin at Stampede Park, and fans in Edmonton can expect the standard 68-day meet next summer, starting in late June.