04/19/2007 11:00PM

Business down at Laurel


All-sources handle and attendance figures for the recently completed 71-day meet at Laurel Park in Maryland fell sharply compared to last year, according to figures released by the track's owner on Friday.

Average all-sources wagering on Laurel's races dropped 7.2 percent, from $2.83 million to $2.63 million, with ontrack handle on the live card dropping 13.1 percent, from $286,000 a day to $249,000 a day. Wagering on Laurel's simulcast signal dropped 6.5 percent, from $2.54 million to $2.38 million a day.

Attendance at Laurel plunged 18.2 percent, from an average of 3,690 people a day to 3,019.

During the 2006 winter meet, Laurel had record wagering figures, an increase of 44 percent compared to the 2005 meet. Out-of-state wagering on Laurel's races during last year's meet was up 55.1 percent.

Lou Raffetto, the chief operating officer for Laurel's owner, the Maryland Jockey Club, cited the record figures last year as being "difficult to maintain" this season because of poor weather in February and March. The weather resulted in the cancellation of one card.

"I know weather is an easy excuse, but people who lived here in the Northeast know what February and March were like," Raffetto said. "And when it's cold, people don't go to as many places, and it looks like they didn't come to the track."

Raffetto also said that changes in immigration law may have had an impact on the number of horses that Laurel was able to rely on to fill racing cards. Some trainers who stable in Maryland year-round laid up some horses over the winter because of difficulty finding grooms, Raffetto said.

"We figure we probably had 150 less horses in the area than last year," Raffetto said.

Though Laurel officials did not have an average field size figure for 2006, average field size during the 2007 meet was 7.5 horses, according to Mike Gathagan, the MJC's vice president of communications.