10/15/2013 1:34PM

Emerald Downs: Handle, field size, attendance all rise at meeting


AUBURN, Wash. – Business was good this summer at Emerald Downs. The daily average handle on Emerald races increased by 4.5 percent, and ontrack attendance spiked sharply upward during the 75-day meeting that ended Sept. 29. And the good news didn’t end there: Purses increased markedly from 2012, and for the first time since 2008, the average field size increased as well.

Emerald Downs president Ron Crockett said daily handle from all sources in 2013 averaged $773,418, up from $740,310 during an 81-day meeting in 2012. The average “live on live” handle – bets on Emerald Downs races by onsite patrons – increased 2.2 percent to $164,462, Crockett said. Daily out-of-state wagering on Emerald’s races was $592,558.

Total wagering, including full-card simulcasts of out-of-state races, was $1,178,051, up 2.4 percent from a year ago.

Crockett, who spearheaded the drive to build Emerald Downs after Longacres closed in 1992, said the uptick in business came as a pleasant surprise. His pre-meet forecast called for as much as a 5 percent decrease in handle.

“To be up on the Emerald ‘all’ is a rewarding feeling,” Crockett said. “With the days we took away, it’s really about a push on the gross, so there’s no big edge, because of [six] days less. But people keep coming – the average in attendance around here is about 4,000 – and we had good support from the horsemen as far as entering horses.”

Crockett estimated that attendance increased by 7.9 percent in 2013.

“There’s never a real number, because you don’t count this, you don’t count that, so many people come from the backstretch,” Crockett said. “But each year we try to do something similar on the count, and compared to last year, it’s up 7.9 percent.”

The average field size was 6.66 horses per race, up from 6.36 in 2012. That reversed a trend that saw field sizes shrink for four consecutive years from their recent high-water mark of 7.69 per race in 2008.

Even with six fewer racing dates, total purse distribution increased by more than $199,000, Crockett said. That was reflected in the daily average purse distribution, which spiked 9 percent to $95,148.

“Given the given, knowing the breeding is down, I had something lesser in mind when the meeting started,” Crockett said. “I think we had good riders this year. The sale was up. I can’t call this a negative year by any means. I figured on 5 percent down for whatever reason – the economy, people breeding fewer horses, and such. I can’t find any negatives.”