11/14/2005 12:00AM

Bad weather ruins Big M meet

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EAST RUTHERFORD, N.J. - Heavy rain deluged The Meadowlands Racetrack in October and the business numbers took a pounding at the meet, which ended Saturday night.

The track posted double-digit declines in average ontrack and total handle compared with 2004 for the abbreviated 25-day meet.

Daily ontrack handle dropped 12.3 percent to $366,795. Average daily total handle on The Meadowlands races from all sources fell 15.8 percent to $1,855,835.

The excessively wet month played a major role in the dips. The Meadowlands was slated to run 30 dates but lost all or portions of seven days to weather-related cancellations. The track added two make-up dates in November to bring the final total up to 25.

"With all the lost days, there is no question we had a bad meet," said Dennis Dowd, senior executive vice president for the New Jersey Sports and Exposition Authority, which owns The Meadowlands and Monmouth Park.

The cancellations forced New Jersey horsemen to race elsewhere, leaving the Big M chronically short of horses.

"When you lose that amount of time, you force your horsemen to make other decisions," Dowd said. "When we came back, we found smaller fields because guys had gone elsewhere. You can't blame anybody."

The poor numbers again call into question the viability of Thoroughbred racing at The Meadowlands. The meeting has shrunk in recent years, and many think the season will eventually be consolidated at Monmouth. The Meadowlands is locked into a Thoroughbred meet through 2007, the year Monmouth hosts the Breeders' Cup. Beyond that, the future of Thoroughbreds at The Meadowlands is less certain.

"It's something we have to reconsider and look at," Dowd said.

Meanwhile, the replacement of Monmouth's turf course remains on schedule despite all the October rain, Dowd said. The new course should be ready for the Memorial Day weekend next year. The main track at Monmouth will also be replaced during the offseason.

Joe Bravo won his 10th Big M riding title, beating out apprentice Channing Hill, 24-19. Jason Servis was leading trainer for the first time with a 15-10 margin over Tim Hills.