08/08/2007 12:00AM

Churchill to stop releasing handle totals


Churchill Downs Inc. will no longer release handle and attendance figures at the ends of the meets of its four racetracks, the chief executive of the company, Bob Evans, said during a conference call on Wednesday morning.

Evans said the new policy was put in place because Churchill officials believe that handle and attendance figures are no longer "key metrics" and do not properly reflect the performance of the company's "operating units," a reference to its four racetracks: Churchill Downs in Louisville, Ky., Arlington Park outside of Chicago, Calder Race Course in Miami, and Fair Grounds Racecourse in New Orleans.

Almost all racetracks issue handle and attendance figures at the end of a meet in comparison with the same figures from the meet held the previous year. Handle numbers are used by reporters and financial analysts to gauge the demand for a racetrack's racing signal. Wagering provides the majority of most racetracks' revenues, and is many times the only source of purses for horsemen.

The handle figures from Churchill tracks will still be published at the end of each raceday on the charts compiled and produced by Equibase, a data-collection company owned by racetracks and the Jockey Club. Those numbers, however, can sometimes be slightly inaccurate because they do not include totals from separate-pool wagering, which includes bets that are not commingled into the common pool. The end-of-day figures are also many times revised after publication because of the omission of pools that are manually merged into the commingled pool because of communications errors.

Julie Koenig Loignon, the vice president of communications for Churchill, said following the conference call that Churchill had become concerned that some reporters and financial analysts were giving too much weight to the handle figures and were therefore misinterpreting the financial health of the tracks.

"For example, at the end of the last Churchill meet, offtrack wagering was down, and that received a lot of play, but if you look at the full performance of the operating units, we actually performed better than last year," Koenig Loignon said.

Earlier this year, Churchill Downs formed a simulcasting partnership with Magna Entertainment Corp. and later cut off two large account-wagering companies from its signals. Following the decision to cut off the tracks, account-wagering handle on the Kentucky Derby fell, and Evans later said that focusing on the raw figures was erroneous because of a higher yield on the account bets under the new relationship with Magna.

Koenig Loignon said Churchill is still considering whether to provide the figures on request, but said that the figures would also be available through other sources like state racing commissions and Equibase.

John Cooney, communications supervisor for the Jockey Club, said Wednesday that Equibase is prohibited from releasing total handle figures for meets at individual racetracks as part of its agreement with the tracks.