04/04/2011 3:02PM

Fair Grounds handle takes late-meet drop

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After a promising start to its season, Fair Grounds experienced more betting declines during its 2010-2011 race meet, which ended March 27.

Total average daily handle fell to $2.97 million, a drop of 4.5-percent from the $3.11 million total average daily in 2009-2010, according to figures supplied by the Louisiana State Racing Commission. (Fair Grounds, like all Churchill Downs Inc. racetracks, does not publicize handle figures.)

Betting in March fell sharply, dropping by 22 percent this year from its 2010 level: Average daily handle from all sources this March was $2.88 million compared to $3.69 million in 2010. At the end of January, betting actually was up by an average of about 8 percent per day compared to the previous year, but wagering activity dropped suddenly during February and never recovered. Ontrack handle fell only slightly from last season, from an average of $156,566 per day to $153,179.

Fair Grounds returned to its traditional Thanksgiving Day opener this season after experimenting with an earlier starting point the two prior meets, and that helped early-season business. Various factors probably contributed to the later-meet drops. California stopped taking bets on Fair Grounds races at the end of January. Also, a long spell of wet weather cost Fair Grounds dozens of scheduled turf races. The turf course looked great when the meet began but appeared to deteriorate early in the season.

Fair Grounds raced 82 full days this meet, losing one entire card because of cold and most of another to heavy rain. While the number of racing days has remained relatively stable the last several years, Fair Grounds has experienced a major handle drop. Total average daily handle has fallen some 32 percent since the 2007-2008 season. Thanks to revenue derived from slot machines and video poker, Fair Grounds still paid out purses averaging more than $325,000 per day this season, twice boosting overnight purses by 5 percent, and raising the purses of several stakes races.

Jockey Rosie Napravnik had a spectacular winter, her first in New Orleans, winning a meet-best 110 races, including an upset of the $1 million Louisiana Derby with Pants On Fire. By way of comparison, Shaun Bridgmohan topped the 2009-2010 standings with 79 wins. That same total placed him a distant second this meet.

Steve Asmussen won another training title, notching 46 wins despite a decreased presence at the meet. Maggi Moss was leading owner with 19 wins. Daisy Devine was one of 27 horses with three wins at the meet, and she capped her season with a victory in the Fair Grounds Oaks.

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