11/22/2010 10:10AM

Fall meet handle rises sharply at Monmouth


Average daily handle during Monmouth Park’s recently concluded fall meet soared when compared to the fall meet held at its sister track, the Meadowlands, during comparable dates last year.

Though a complete restructuring of the New Jersey racing calendar this year makes comparisons between 2009 and 2010 difficult, the decision by the owner of Monmouth and the Meadowlands to limit racing to Monmouth this year and dramatically pare the state’s racing dates had positive impacts on the track’s handle and attendance figures, even when comparing total handle during the 72 days of racing this year to the 140 days of racing held last year.

“It’s clear that concentrating Thoroughbred racing at Monmouth Park proved a very wise investment,” said Dennis R. Robinson, the chief executive officer of the New Jersey Sports and Exposition Authority, the state-owned agency that operates the tracks.

For the 22-day fall meet, which closed on Sunday, average daily handle was $3,841,848, a 186 percent increase over average daily handle of $1,342,884 during a 47-day Thoroughbred meet at the Meadowlands last fall. Average ontrack handle was up 115 percent, from $139,378 to $299,778, and average attendance was up 28.6 percent, from 3,325 to 4,277.

The handle figures were boosted by a sizeable increase in average field size, from 7.29 horses per race last year to 8.81 horses this year. Field size is highly correlated with handle.

The NJSEA and the state’s horsemen agreed to reduce racing dates this year in the hopes of reversing a long slide in handle and attendance figures. The plan had a political component as well, because legislators and government officials are exploring ways to restructure the state’s racing and casino industries, and the racing industry was keen to put its best foot forward in the hopes of getting state relief.

Even with the reduction in racing dates, total handle rose, from $354.9 million last year to $477.4 this year, a gain of 34.5 percent. Total ontrack handle was even with last year’s figure, at $44,153,896, compared to $44,623,515 last year.

The first 50 days of the Monmouth meet were billed as the Elite Meet. Using $19 million in subsidies from Atlantic City casinos – a subsidy that expired this year – the track distributed an average of $800,000 a day in purses, tops in the country. Live race cards were limited to Fridays, Saturdays, Sundays, and holidays.