02/08/2005 12:00AM

Drop in business in line with projections

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HALLANDALE BEACH, Fla. - Under normal circumstances, any racetrack operator whose attendance was down nearly 50 percent and ontrack handle off 35 percent from the previous season would be looking to hurl himself off the grandstand roof.

But these are not normal times at Gulfstream Park, which is undergoing a two-year reconstruction project and doesn't even have a grandstand. The ontrack declines and a 6.5 percent drop in all-sources betting on Gulfstream's races for the opening five weeks of the meet are about what officials of the track's owner, Magna Entertainment Corp., expected, said Gulfstream Park president and general manager Scott Savin.

"We are very happy with both the handle and attendance figures to date," Savin said. "We're right in line where we thought we'd be at this point, considering the circumstances."

Through 27 racing dates last year, Gulfstream's ontrack handle averaged approximately $1,158,000 and attendance averaged nearly 9,800 per card. Through Sunday during the current session, encompassing 23 racing days and including two programs that were cut short, average ontrack handle was approximately $749,200 and attendance averaged just over 5,400 per day. These figures mark declines of 35 percent in handle and 45 percent in attendance.

Although the temporary facilities have limited the action at the track, Gulfstream's signal is still attractive to bettors across the country. All-sources betting on Gulfstream's races has averaged $7,985,000 per day, down 6.5 percent from last year's average at this time, $8,540,000.

Field size has averaged 9.9 horses per race, up 5 percent from last season.

Savin said he was encouraged by a rise in in-state handle, which he said was up significantly, most notably at the Palm Beach Downs Kennel Club simulcast site about 50 miles north of the track.

"Obviously, the in-state numbers, and specifically the business at Palm Beach, is an indication that people who can't get in here to the track, for whatever reasons, are still betting on our races," said Savin. "And we anticipate getting all that business back here when we're operating under normal conditions again next year."

Savin also said the out-of-state handle shows a moderate increase over 2004.

The new turf course, which was a major part of the renovation project along with a rebuilt main track, has allowed racing secretary Dave Bailey to so far card about 10 percent more races on the grass than last year, Savin said.

"And by the end of this month alone, we expect to see significantly more usage out of the course," said Savin.