04/09/2014 2:38PM

Fair Grounds all-sources average daily handle down 12 percent


Betting on races at the 2013–14 Fair Grounds meeting that ended March 30 declined by more than 12 percent from the 2012–13 season. A disappointing final tally came as no surprise since Fair Grounds twice had to cut purses during the racing season to keep from overpaying purses.

Average daily all-sources handle during the 83-day meet that began Nov. 22 was $2,338,078, according to handle figures provided by the Louisiana State Racing Commission, since Fair Grounds, per a policy set by parent company Churchill Downs Inc., does not publicly disseminate handle information. Average daily handle during the 2012–13 season, also 83 days, was $2,677,038.

The decline equates to a loss of more than $28 million in gross handle on Fair Grounds races, and the numbers are even starker going back two racing seasons. Average daily all-sources handle during the 2011-12 meeting was more than $2.9 million, meaning Fair Grounds’s handle has fallen by almost one-fifth in two years. Almost $50 million less was bet on races at the New Orleans track this meet than during the 2011-12 season.

The pace of the handle decline increased as the 2012-13 meet went on, but betting was down early this season, and in January, Fair Grounds announced it was eliminating four stakes and cutting the purses of 12 others. But though that move saved the purse account $785,000, overnight purses still had to be trimmed by 10 percent in late February for the track to hold its bottom line.

Corresponding with the decline in betting is a drop in the number of starters per race at the Fair Grounds meet: The track averaged 8.48 starters in 2011-12, 8.2 in 2012-13, but just 7.88 starters this season, and only 7.66 in dirt races. Favorites won at a robust 37 percent rate this meet, though that was down from 41 percent during 2012-13.

The turf course, the subject of offseason renovation, came under criticism for failing to properly drain during the first half of the meet, and during one December program on a sunny day, riders asked that turf races be moved to the main track because horses were sliding over slick grass on the course’s turns. But as the weather warmed, the course began draining more efficiently, and by meet’s end, 149 grass races had been contested, not far off the 166 turf-race average over the previous six seasons. Still, Fair Grounds and CDI are facing pressure from the Louisiana legislature to improve the grass course and make other capital investments in racing, and according to the New Orleans Times-Picayune, there are three bills circulating in the legislature that would compel the track to act.

Rosie Napravnik won her fourth straight Fair Grounds riding title, besting James Graham 114-105. Steve Asmussen won 60 races to capture the trainers’ title, and Maggi Moss was the meet’s leading owner for the fourth year in a row.