02/23/2008 1:00AM

Business down from last year

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OLDSMAR, Fla. – As Tampa Bay Downs began the second half of its 94-day meet last week, general manager Pete Berube had a mixed bag of facts and figures to review.

The ontrack and in-state handle figures are down 8.8 and 10.8 percent, respectively, from this time last season, while the attendance figures are close to even. Out-of-state wagering is up 1.5 percent. All-sources handle is down 6.4 percent.

Berube believes the declines are because of a weakened economy in Florida.

“The numbers tell me Florida is pretty soft in terms of money spent this season,” he said. “Sales tax revenues are down for the state, the tourism numbers are down, and it’s pretty obvious the economic slump is hitting Florida harder than many other states. We depend on entertainment and leisure dollars, and if people have less extra money to spend it’s going to show in our figures.”

Berube is encouraged by the out-of-state handle, which is averaging approximately $3.9 million per day. “That tells me that people are pleased with out product, that we are gaining new players, and that we’re doing a lot of things right,” he said. “One of the things I’m pleased with is our starters per race, which is 9.42, up from 8.84 last season.”

Berube is also pleased by the overall quality of the racing program.

“I think our stakes have been solid and our overnight program is doing well,” he said. “Our purses are up from $146,000 last season to $156,000 this season. Our Festival Preview Day produced the fourth highest handle ever. I’d like all our figures to be up, but in light of the overall economic picture I’d say were doing all right.”

Bramblett off to hot start

It looks as though Jennifer Bramblett is successfully making the transition from jockey to trainer.

Bramblett enjoyed most of her success as a rider of Arabians and picked up many of the basics of training working with noted Arabian conditioner Lynn Ashby and her daughter Lynette.

Bramblett has a barn comprised of mostly young maidens and unproven runners, but Tawnimara’s head victory in the nightcap on Friday was her third winner from just nine starters. Considering that two other Bramblett runners have finished second, it’s easy to see she could have a future in the training world.