10/27/2009 11:00PM

Delaware sees sharp rise in handle

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The average all-sources handle during Delaware Park's recently concluded 109-day meet was up 27.1 percent this year compared with last year, according to figures provided by the track.

The average all-sources figure soared from $1.22 million last year for 136 racing days to $1.55 million this year. Total handle increased 1.9 percent to $169.0 million despite the loss of 27 racing days. The 2008 total, $165.8 million, was down 22.1 percent from the 2007 total of $212.8 million, when Delaware ran 135 live racing days, according to state racing commission figures.

John Mooney, the track's executive director of racing, said that an influx of trainers to Delaware Park this year allowed the track to run more races per day with larger fields. The average field size this year was 7.73 horses per race, up 11.3 percent from the average last year of 6.94 horses. Delaware ran an average of 9.74 races per day this year, compared with 8.96 races last year.

"The main problem at Delaware Park over the last couple of years has been a shortage of horses," Mooney said. "We were able to attract a lot more stables to Delaware this year, and it sure helps to have 1,400 horses in the stable area."

Delaware also changed its live racing schedule to eliminate Sunday racing in May, August, September, and October, with live racing on Saturday, Monday, Tuesday, and Wednesday. Because so many tracks run live cards on Sunday, the simulcast signals from many minor tracks can sometimes get overlooked - Delaware's handle would typically slip to $1 million on Sunday, according to Chris Sobocinski, a track spokesman. Handle on Wednesdays, with less simulcast competition, would often top $2 million, Sobocinski said.

Delaware cut seven live race days from the 2009 meet earlier this year after the state legislature passed a bill reducing the horsemen's share of slot-machine revenue at the track by 10 percent. Mooney said the track anticipates restoring those live race days to next year's schedule, when the track plans to run 116 days.