07/12/2011 3:00PM

Emerald Downs: Average daily handle up 1.2% during meet's first half

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AUBURN, Wash. – Emerald Downs reached the midpoint of its 82-day meeting last Sunday, and there’s good news to report. Through the initial 41 days, the average daily handle was $1,254,473, an increase of 1.2 percent from the corresponding date a year ago.

Remarkably, ontrack attendance was up 16 percent, Emerald Downs president Ron Crockett said.

The numbers reported by Crockett buck trends at venues up and down the West Coast, where handles have declined in recent years. The trick will be to maintain those gains over the second half as the suburban Seattle track moves into the heart of its summer schedule. After running three days a week since the meet began April 15, Emerald will try to maintain a four-days-a-week schedule over the next two months.

Through Sunday, Emerald’s average field size was 6.85 horses per race, a decrease of 3 percent from the previous full season average of 7.03. Emerald presented a total of 772 races in 2010 and is on pace for about 745 this summer. This Thursday’s card – the first midweek program of the meeting – includes eight races with an average field size of 6.3 runners per race.

“I feel extremely positive,” Crockett said of the meeting to date. “Obviously, the key from this point on is how the horse population is able to support the entry box. To date, the horsemen have done a tremendous job.”

Emerald’s marketing department, headed by Adrian Buchan, also has done terrific work, Crockett said. While Emerald Downs does not compile all-encompassing attendance figures – owing to the large number of horsemen and other patrons who bypass the turnstiles – Crockett said there’s no question, based on actual turnstile counts and estimates for the rest, that more people are attending the races in 2011.

“As far as the attendance, all the work we’ve put into the past 10 years on trying to encourage younger people to come to the races, we believe it is now paying off,” he said. “We’ve marketed to families, and I think it has paid off in spades. Obviously, per-capita wagering is down, but that’s just a function of new people coming to the races.”

The horsemen’s account that funds purses is right where it should be, Crockett said. “Purses generated after 41 days are up 2.5 percent over last year, and the overnights paid out are up 1.9 percent from last year,” he said. “The purse account is in good shape, and that’s always a key. I have no concerns there.”