09/20/2005 11:00PM

Fairmount Park track report

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Both average attendance and handle declined at the 2005 Fairmount Park meeting that ended Sept. 17, according to figures released by the track's auditor.

For 102 racing programs, the total daily average handle on Fairmount Park races was $279,697, down 4.2 percent from 101 days the previous year. Attendance fell 4.4 percent to 2,439 daily.

The decline in handle can be partially attributed to gambling dollars being diverted into the area's increasingly popular riverboat casinos, as well as consistently short fields and the elimination of superfecta wagering.

"If there are only five other horses in a race, there's no value," said Lanny Brooks, executive director of the local Horsemen's Benevolent and Protective Association. "So people don't bet a lot on the live races, and that percentage doesn't go into the purse account. And the only way to increase fields is to increase the purses."

On the upside was the track's decision to spread its Illinois-bred stakes over multiple cards rather than run them all on one Tuesday afternoon, a shift that bolstered the chances of Fairmount-based horsemen.

"The Chicago horsemen would come down and take all the money," said Brooks. "So we decided it'd be a better idea to spread it out over several Saturday nights."

Rafael Hernandez, who began the year as an apprentice jockey, took advantage of Ramsey Zimmerman's late-season drug suspension to win the track's riding title with 121 victories. Ralph Martinez once again easily walked off with top trainer honors with 131 wins in 530 starts.

But the real star of the meet was a 4-year-old Leroy Hellman-trained filly named Lady Riss, who won six of seven starts at the track - including a victory over older males in the $40,800 Pete Condellone Handicap. The horse's earnings of $105,540 was the highest annual total in Fairmount's 80-year history.