03/26/2007 12:00AM

Fair Grounds handle up, purses set record


Fair Grounds Race Course in New Orleans closed its 2006-2007 race meet on Sunday with record purse distribution and a 5.9 percent increase in all-sources wagering from its last meet, according to figures released by the track.

Average daily purse distribution during the 81-day meet was $387,422, up 44.7 percent compared with average daily purse distribution of $267,784 during the 2004-05 racing season, which spanned 82 days. Churchill Downs Inc., the Louisville, Ky.-based company that owns the track, said in a release that the purse increases were largely attributable to revenue from slot machines at its offtrack betting facilities and at the track.

Fair Grounds did not run a 2005-06 meet because of the effects of Hurricane Katrina. As a result, purse revenue from slot machines and year-round simulcasting built up over a two-year period.

Average all-sources wagering on Fair Grounds races during the meet was $4,432,445, a 5.9 percent increase over the average of $4,184,980 in 2004-05. In part, wagering was helped by a 0.4 percent increase in field size, from 8.32 horses per race to 8.36 horses per race.

Ontrack betting, on average, was up 2.2 percent on Fair Grounds races, from $221,480 to $226,377 a day, despite a 10.1 percent decline in average attendance, from 2,104 to 1,891. Fair Grounds' president, Randy Soth, said the track attributed the decline in attendance to the decrease in population in New Orleans. The city's pre-Hurricane Katrina population was approximately 500,000; the latest figures have estimated the population at approximately 180,000.

On the track, Joseph Talamo, a 17-year-old apprentice and native of Louisiana, took the riders' title, winning 119 races, 25 more than the six-time Fair Grounds leading rider Robby Albarado. It was the first time that an apprentice had won the riders' title at the track.

Tom Amoss, a New Orleans native, won the trainers' title with 52 victories, his ninth title at the track. Hall of Fame trainer Jack Van Berg has the record at Fair Grounds with 10 trainers' titles.

Sandy and Jerry Heflin took the owners' title by winning 30 races at the meet. The Heflins are from Texas, and bought their first racehorses three years ago.