04/07/2015 12:56PM

Daily handle up 10.2 percent at Fair Grounds meet


After a fairly dismal 2013-14 racing season, betting, as well as the racing product in general, rebounded during the 2014-15 race meet at Fair Grounds in New Orleans.

All-sources average daily handle during the 81-day Fair Grounds meet that ended March 29 was $2,605,025, a 10.2 percent increase over the $2,338,078 average from the prior meet, according to information provided Tuesday by the Louisiana Racing Commission.
Despite running two fewer days than in 2013-14, this meet outhandled the previous meet in terms of gross betting, $211,057,007 to $194,060,512.

A closer look at the betting numbers reveals both moderating and encouraging conclusions. This meet’s handle increase was not even great enough to offset a 12 percent decline between the 2012-13 and 2013-14 seasons. But on the plus side, Fair Grounds finally reversed years of sinking betting numbers, and the track’s late-meet business was positively robust.

Average daily all-sources handle during the 17 days of racing this March was more than $2.9 million, an increase of about 24 percent compared with 2014. The March figure even eclipsed the handle from March 2013 by nearly 7 percent. Handle in February was up about 9 percent year over year, and the total-meet increase came despite lower handle in November 2014 than in November 2013.

After lowering purses twice during the 2013-14 meet, Fair Grounds raised them late in the 2014-15 season.

Spurring the gains was a revamped turf course that performed better than anyone could have hoped at this race meet. Fair Grounds repaired the turf drainage system during the offseason, and it worked; the track was able to host more grass races this season, 230, than it ever had. During the 2013-14 meet, with the turf not draining properly, Fair Grounds ran only 149 grass races.

Increased turf opportunities helped boost field size to 8.35 starters per race during the meet, a significant increase over the 7.88 starters per race at the 2013-14 meet. During March, Fair Grounds average 8.86 starters per race and 9.61 starters per turf race. More horses in races meant deeper competition, and the strike rate of race favorites dropped to 34 percent, down from 37 percent last season and 41 percent in 2012-13.

James Graham ran away with the jockeys’ title, his 106 wins at the meet 34 more than the 72 winners booted home by Miguel Mena, Florent Geroux, and Francisco Torres.

Tom Amoss was leading trainer with 41 wins, and Maggi Moss, whose Fair Grounds horses Amoss trains, won the owners’ title with 16 wins.

International Star swept the series of stakes races for 3-year-olds, winning the Louisiana Derby, while I’m a Chatterbox did the same thing in the fillies’ series, winning the Fair Grounds Oaks. Chocolate Ride came into the meet as a claimer eligible for a first-level allowance race and left it as the best turf horse in the region, the winner of the Fair Grounds and Mervin Muniz handicaps.