05/03/2004 11:00PM

Big fields, turf racing boost Tampa

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Larger fields, more grass races, and wider signal availability spurred the double-digit increase in business numbers at the recently concluded Tampa Bay Downs meeting.

The 93-day meet closed Sunday with significant gains in attendance, all-sources handle, and ontrack betting on its live races.

The track had an average daily all-sources handle of $3,166,051, up 24.1 percent from last year and a record. Tampa's signal was available to customers of New York City Off-Track Betting Corporation five days a week this year, compared with three last year.

Average attendance was up 10.9 percent, from 3,151 to 3,495. Ontrack handle on Tampa races was up 20.9 percent, from $243,181 to $293,959.

Full fields and plenty of grass racing drove the wagering numbers. The average field size was 9.94 horses during the meet, a 7 percent increase. Tampa carded 191 turf races this year, compared to 171 last year, an 11 percent gain.

The only figure that fell was the total ontrack handle, which includes betting on simulcasts. It fell 0.8 percent, from $54.3 million to $53.9 million. Because of a dispute with Gulfstream Park, Tampa was unable to offer betting on signals from the New York Racing Association or any tracks owned by Magna Entertainment, the owner of Gulfstream.

Purses rose 5.5 percent, from $128,620 daily to $135,727.