04/10/2012 1:59PM

Fair Grounds handle dips slightly


Sagging handle during midwinter gave way to more robust betting in February and March, as Fair Grounds completed a 2011-2012 racing season April 1 with business figures very similar to the previous season.

All sources gross handle for the 83-day meet was $242,175,388, a decline of nearly 2 percent from the 83-day 2010-2011 season, during which $246,330,629 was wagered. Those gross figures translate to an all-sources average daily handle of $2.92 million this season compared to $2.97 last year, according to handle information provided by the Louisiana State Racing Commission on Tuesday. Fair Grounds, as per the policy of its owner, Churchill Downs Inc., does not make publicly available business figures.

The Fair Grounds meet, facing new competition this season because of the earlier opening of Gulfstream Park in December rather than January, started slowly. The average daily handle was down 11 percent in December compared with the same month the previous meet, while January handle declined 8.1 percent. Business stabilized in February, and during 19 days of racing in March and on April 1, Fair Grounds averaged $3.32 million in all-sources daily handle, an increase of 13 percent compared to 2011.

“Gulfstream opening in December really hurt us, but February was good and March was very good,” Fair Grounds’ assistant general manager and vice president, Eric Halstrom, said.

To that end, Fair Grounds’ 84-day meet in 2012-2013 will feature a different kind of schedule than the past two seasons. Fair Grounds ran five-day weeks in December and January the past two years, but will race four-day weeks from the Thanksgiving 2012 opening through the end of January, shifting to five-day weeks during February and March, Halstrom said.

Fair Grounds paid out roughly $30 million in total purses during the 2011-2012 meet, averaging about $325,000 in daily distribution, including stakes races. Louisiana-bred races comprised about 35 percent of the race cards, a figure comparable to the 2010-2011 meet. Halstrom said Fair Grounds succeeded to some extent in working higher-class allowance races into racing programs, but that’s an area that probably still needs work. The Fair Grounds turf course, which was upgraded after wearing down badly in 2010-2011, held up better this year, but still does not drain properly on the inside, and was regularly used late in the meet by lower-level performers.

Nates Mineshaft, who began the winter a claiming horse, was named horse of the meet after capturing the Mineshaft Handicap and setting a nine-furlong track record winning the New Orleans Handicap. Jockey Rosie Napravnik, trainer Steve Asmussen, and owner Maggi Moss were season leaders in their respective categories.