09/26/2016 3:26PM

Handle, average field size down sharply at Monmouth meet

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Wagering figures at the recently completed Monmouth Park meet in Oceanport, N.J., tumbled across the board, according to figures released by the track Sunday night, reflecting the track’s struggles to fill races and card competitive betting contests.

Average handle per day during the 57-day meet was $3.44 million, down 25.2 percent from average handle of $4.60 million during last year’s 58-day meet. The handle numbers were particularly affected by a decline in the number of races held per day, from 11.2 last year to 9.9 this year, and by a decrease in average field size from 8.11 horses per race last year to 7.28 this year.

Dennis Drazin, the head of the horsemen’s group that operates Monmouth Park under a lease from the state, said that too many horsemen shipped out from Monmouth during the meet to take advantage of larger purses at tracks in neighboring states fattened by casino subsidies. Monmouth’s racing office had attempted to fill 12 races a day, Drazin said, but had to cancel many races on the overnight sheet. Despite the cancellations, field size declined, and races often had short-priced favorites, a discouraging set of factors for many horseplayers.

“Despite the fact that we offer worker’s compensation here and give trainers stalls with no day rate, they tended to ship a lot more than we prefer,” Drazin said. “Instead of staying at home and racing with us, they went out of town.”

The decline in wagering came as wagering on horse racing at all U.S. tracks is up slightly from last year, despite a 3 percent decline in the number of races held. With the substantial drop-off in races at Monmouth, from 649 last year to 563 this year, average handle per race at the meet was down significantly less than the nationwide average decline but was still down 15.1 percent.

Average attendance at the meet was 8,833, down 9.2 percent from last year. Last year, Monmouth reported that attendance on the day of the Haskell Invitational, which featured Triple Crown winner American Pharoah, was 60,983, while this year, reported attendance for Haskell Day was 35,983, significantly cutting into this year’s average attendance figure.

Although the business declines were substantial this year, Drazin said the horsemen-controlled company that operates Monmouth, Darby Development, is likely to post net income this year “somewhere around the figure for last year,” which was $1.1 million. Drazin also said that the group is attempting to extend its lease at Monmouth for the next 40 years. Darby first reached a long-term agreement to lease the track from the state in 2012, running for five years with three 10-year options.

The Monmouth Park meet opened in mid-May concurrent with the launch of the first exchange-wagering system in the U.S. The system, operated by Betfair, allowed New Jersey residents to post and accept bets on races from tracks across the country.

Betfair, which owns Television Games Network and runs the state’s only legal account-wagering service, said that matched bets on the exchange totaled $2.86 million through August, or approximately $180,000 per week. Monmouth was the most popular signal on the platform during the track’s meet.

“We continue to be encouraged by many of the trends of the New Jersey exchange, including the demographics and especially that the majority of the volume traded to date has been from people who were not existing [New Jersey account-wagering] customers,” said Kip Levin, the head of Betfair U.S.

The launch of the platform was made possible by the approval of New Jersey’s horsemen. Drazin said that he expected wagering on the platform to grow in the future.

“I think as people learn more about it, they are going to open up to it more,” Drazin said.