01/21/2002 12:00AM

Business down at Gulfstream

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HALLANDALE BEACH, Fla. - Through the first three weeks of the Gulfstream Park meeting, business has been down substantially.

Total handle for the first 17 days of the meet is $130,239,503, down 13 percent from the $150,537,907 handled for the corresponding 17 days of the 2001 meet. On-track handle is $17,830,825, down 15 percent from the corresponding 17 days of 2001 when Gulfstream handled $21,056,277.

Attendance is up 5 percent to 179,297, buoyed mainly by a crowd of 29,889 that came to see a Bryan Adams rock concert Jan. 6.

According to Gulfstream Park president Scott Savin, total handle is down only 10 percent while ontrack business is down just 7 percent. Savin would not provide precise numbers, referring those requests to Magna Entertainment Corp.'s Canadian office. Doug Patters, the corporate controller for Magna, was unavailable on Monday.

Savin said a 10 percent decline in business is a direct correlation to a 10 percent reduction in field size.

"We're not surprised where we are," said Savin, who added the average field size for the first 10 days of the meet was 7.8 horses a race. "We would be surprised if the field size was higher."

Savin said over the last six days field size has increased to 8.4 horses per race. However, on only one of those days was handle higher this year than the corresponding day last year.

Savin told local reporters over the weekend that if business continued at this rate, he might have to cut purses. He backed off those comments Monday.

"At this point, we have no intention of cutting purses," Savin said.

When asked if it was possible that Gulfstream would cut back on the number of races it cards, Savin said "entries will dictate that."