11/04/2009 1:00AM

Belmont handle down sharply


Handle and attendance figures at the recently concluded 33-day Belmont Park meet plummeted by double digits compared with 2008, with officials blaming the impact of rainy weather for the declines.

All-sources average handle on Belmont's races during the meet dropped 17.1 percent, from $9,628,785 for 37 days last year to $7,981,108 for the 33 days this year, according to figures provided by the New York Racing Association, which operates the track. Combined with declines from 2008, all-sources average handle on the Belmont Park fall meet has fallen 23.9 percent since 2007, when average handle was $10,498,520 daily for a 33-day meet.

Total wagering declined 26.1 percent, falling from $356.3 million for the 37-day meet last year to $263.4 million, a drop of nearly $93 million.

On track, average daily attendance dropped 12.9 percent, from 3,987 last year to 3,470 this year. Ontrack handle dropped 15.8 percent.

During the meet, 38 races were taken off the turf, compared with 21 during the 2008 meet. Rainy weather dampens handle because most races taken off the turf are accompanied by rashes of scratches, and many bettors are not comfortable wagering as much money on off tracks as dry tracks.

The declines at the Belmont meet followed relatively upbeat figures from NYRA's Saratoga meet, where average daily handle slipped just 1.7 percent despite the economic fallout of the recession. Saratoga's race cards, however, also had less competition in the simulcast marketplace during the meet after Del Mar in Southern California cut six Mondays from its summer racing schedule. In addition, the weather this summer in upstate New York had far fewer rainy days than in 2008, leading to fewer scratches and more turf racing.