Updated on 09/17/2011 10:55AM

Churchill up across the board


LOUISVILLE, Ky. - Sparked by a number of positive factors, Churchill Downs on Sunday closed its 52-day spring meet with significant increases in virtually every business category.

Most notable was the 17.4 percent increase in average all-sources wagering over the 2002 spring meet. Handle averaged $12,484,001 daily, with almost all of the increase attributable to a steady surge of betting from offtrack sites. Simulcast wagering on Churchill racing averaged $10,682,366, an increase of 20.4 percent from last year.

Ontrack, per-day handle was $1,801,364, up 1.7 percent, while attendance averaged 13,773, up 5.7 percent.

Steve Sexton, president of Churchill, said he believed the gains were made possible by a combination of good weather, record figures on the May 3 Kentucky Derby, quality racing and large fields, successful ontrack promotions, and two sizable pick six carryovers during the meet.

Sexton said results of the meet were "gratifying, because those gains came despite the pressures of growing and maturing competition in our market and increasing competition from within our industry from other racing states."

Since an Indiana riverboat casino became operational in the Louisville market in November 1998, business at live Churchill meets has consistently had slightly negative or stagnant figures.

What helped to turn things around was typified by the closing three-day weekend. A total of 330 horses started in the final 33 races, which included three stakes and a large number of allowance, maiden special weight, starter allowance, and high-end claiming races.

"If I can't get people to bet on races like these, I can't get them to bet on anything," said Doug Bredar, the track's racing secretary.

Average purses essentially remained the same as last year, averaging $438,229 per card. Average field size was 8.89 horses, up from 8.53 last spring.

Velasquez tops rider standings

Cornelio Velasquez, riding regularly for the first time at a Churchill meet, led the standings with 62 wins. Pat Day, who had won the last seven spring meets, was second with 51 while leading in mount earnings. John McKee, who lost his apprenticeship June 5, was third with 42 wins.

With 39 winners, trainer Dale Romans set a record for a normal-length spring meet (Churchill ran deep into the summer in 1983-84). Romans had tied for the last three spring meet titles.

Ken and Sarah Ramsey extended their own Churchill record as the owners of 14 winners at the meet. The Ramseys now have won or shared the last seven meet titles (spring and fall).