08/25/2009 11:00PM

Crockett satisfied with business considering

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AUBURN, Wash. - Emerald Downs has weathered the economic downturn reasonably well, track president Ron Crockett said Wednesday, with betting handle on Emerald races through the first 71 racing days declining 2.5 percent from the corresponding period in 2008.

Betting on out-of-state races from Emerald and in-state satellite facilities was off 16.4 percent from a year ago, however, contributing to an overall wagering decline of 7.8 percent, Crockett said.

"The Emerald all-source decline of 2.5 percent is a good number nationally, based on what I've been reading," Crockett said. "There's very strong competition, with casinos, pro sports, including the new Seattle soccer franchise, and great success this year with the Mariners. Those are all discretionary dollars, so in light of that, being down 2.5 percent, I feel fairly strong about that. That's a great sign."

Emerald does not release daily attendance figures, though Crockett said attendance was down 2.1 percent from the corresponding period last summer. But per-capita wagering by Emerald patrons had declined about 10.5 percent, he said.

Crockett said field size, a primary impetus for wagering activity, had been sufficient. Emerald's average field size through last Sunday was 7.48 starters, a 2.7 percent decline from 2008.

"There's been great support from the horsemen in filling races, though that might suffer a little in September," Crockett said.

Bettors wagered an Emerald single-race record $796,268 on the Longacres Mile on Aug. 16, and the Mile Day handle of $3,053,292 was the second largest in track history. The winner of the Mile, Assessment, is being pointed to the Breeders' Cup Dirt Mile, which will bring national attention to Emerald racing, Crockett said.

Emerald's purse structure was increased by 4.8 percent after the first 31 racing days. Crockett said he's been pleased with the quality of racing, despite a shortage of horses in some claiming categories.

"It's more difficult for the $15,000 to $25,000 categories to fill, and that's disturbing," he said. "I'm not sure exactly how we fix that"

A bigger problem, Crockett said, is the dire state of the breeding industry.

"It's so vitally important, and they keep projecting to be down in mares bred and foals hitting the ground in the coming years," he said. "With our sale coming up soon, we have to be concerned."