12/01/2003 1:00AM

Fall meet handle up sharply


LOUISVILLE, Ky. - Churchill Downs reported a substantial increase in all-sources handle and a slight increase in ontrack business at the 27-day fall meet that ended Saturday.

All-sources wagering averaged $7,993,598, an increase of nearly 18 percent from last fall, when 30 programs were run. Ontrack business was up slightly, although figures reflect business at the nearby Trackside simulcast facility, which was open because of the massive renovation project that dominated the Churchill landscape.

Combined attendance at Churchill and Trackside averaged 6,755, an increase of less than 1 percent from last year. Broken down, those figures were 5,472 per day at Churchill and 1,283 at Trackside.

Combined handle at Churchill and Trackside averaged $1,015,301, an increase of almost 5 percent. Churchill accounted for just over $700,000 per day, or about 69 percent of the combined total.

Gross purse payouts were more than $11.4 million, an increase of 1 percent over last year. The per-day average was $424,017, an increase of more than 12 percent.

Churchill officials partly attributed the solid business figures to field size, which averaged 9.67 horses per race. Still, Steve Sexton, president of Churchill, cautioned that ontrack business figures were down dramatically during the 2002 fall meet, when handle slipped 28 percent.

"Ontrack attendance is off more than 23 percent since the introduction of expanded gaming into the Louisville market in 1998," said Sexton. "To that end, Churchill Downs will continue to pursue alternative gaming to strengthen our position in the marketplace."

Churchill and other Kentucky tracks are hoping for passage of legislation that would lead to a state-wide referendum on expanded gambling. The state's general assembly reconvenes next month.

Churchill's $121 million renovation began in late 2001 and is scheduled for completion by early 2005.

On the racetrack, Pat Day extended his record for Churchill jockey titles to 34 by riding 41 winners. Day, who takes off almost all of December every year, missed the last three days of racing because of illness related to chronic sinus problems.

Trainer Dale Romans set a fall-meet record by sending out 20 winners. Romans also dominated the spring meet, becoming the first trainer since D. Wayne Lukas in 1996 to win sweep both titles.

Owners Ken and Sarah Ramsey extended their record for most consecutive Churchill meets as leading owner. The Ramseys had 12 winners, marking the eighth straight meet they have won or shared the owner title.