12/02/2002 12:00AM

Churchill business continues to decline

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LOUISVILLE, Ky. - Figures for the the 30-day Churchill Downs fall meet that ended Saturday ranged from bad to worse. While average all-sources handle was down 7 percent, average ontrack attendance and wagering were down 21 and 17 percent, continuing trends at the historic Louisville track over the last few years.

Churchill officials blamed continuing competition from riverboat casinos in nearby Indiana and other lesser factors for the sharp decline. The Caesars riverboat became operational in November 1998, and Churchill's business figures have stagnated or slumped since then.

This was the first meet conducted at Churchill since Indiana began allowing dockside gaming on its boats.

At the fall meet, wagering from all sources averaged $6,789,843, compared with $7,284,313 last year. Respective ontrack handle and attendance averages were $969,854 and 6,735. Per-day purses reflected the downward trend by averaging $378,609, down 7 percent. Only 24 programs were conducted last fall, six less than this year.

The fall meet was the first at Churchill since Alex Waldrop was moved from the president's post into a senior vice president position. Since that switch, Churchill has been operating with John Long as interim president.

The track's parent company, Churchill Downs Inc., is expected to name a new full-time president by early next year.

Long said the poor figures at the fall meet "underscore the validity of concerns that Churchill Downs has expressed for several years." He and other company officials say they will continue to work with Kentucky legislators to attempt to win alternative gaming at state racetracks.

Long also said "continued economic uncertainty and unusually cold and wet weather" were contributing factors in the sharp ontrack declines.

On the racetrack, Pat Day rode 50 winners for his 33rd Churchill riding crown. Ken McPeek won his first training title anywhere with 15 winners, and Ken and Sarah Ramsey were top owner, extending their track record for most consecutive titles. The Ramseys have won or tied for leading owner at the last six Churchill meets.