09/26/2011 3:50PM

Emerald Downs has dip in overall handle

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AUBURN, Wash. – Emerald Downs put the finishing touches on its 16th season Sunday with attendance up sharply and betting handle down slightly. The average daily handle of $1,171,731 was off 1.1 percent from the previous season, track officials said, while attendance increased by more than 10 percent. Total handle for the 82-day meeting was more than $96 million.

The handle figures include betting on Emerald races from all sources, along with betting by Emerald patrons on races at other tracks. All-source wagering on Emerald’s live races averaged $765,505, an incremental gain of about $2,500 per day, according to Adrian Buchan, the track’s marketing director.

A total of 728 races were presented, the fewest in track history, as overall participation dipped to 4,898 total starters, a decrease of 9.8 percent from the previous year. The average field size was 6.73 horses per race.

A shortage of race-ready 2-year-olds contributed to the decline in total starters. Emerald presented 60 races for 2-year-olds in 2011, down from 87 races in 2010. The number of juvenile starters at Emerald has declined more than 50 percent since 2006.

On the track, the meet was dominated by Noosa Beach, who won three consecutive stakes races before finishing second in the Grade 3, $200,000 Longacres Mile in his final start. Noosa Beach, a 5-year owned by Jeff Harwood and trained by Doris Harwood, was named Horse of the Meeting, top older horse, top Washington-bred, and top sprinter. Plans to run Noosa Beach in the Breeders’ Cup Dirt Mile this fall at Churchill Downs were scrapped when the horse developed a foot abscess. He has been turned out for the rest of the year.

Other division honors went to You Me and Ema B (older filly or mare), Class Included (3-year-old filly), Emerald Derby winner Jebrica (3-year-old male), Gottstein Futurity winner Talk to My Lawyer (2-year-old filly), Chu and I (2-year-old male), and Touch of Elegance (top claimer on the strength of seven victories at the meet).

Leslie Mawing ran away with the riding title with 129 victories, 29 more than runner-up Juan Gutierrez. Frank Lucarelli edged Howard Belvoir 53-52 for the training title, Lucarelli’s fourth title at Emerald Downs. Belvoir was the meet’s leading owner with 21 victories.

Buchan said he expects the 2012 season to mimic 2011, with opening day in mid-April. He said possible changes to the number of race dates, the wagering menu, the purse structure, or the stakes schedule would be determined in the months ahead.