11/01/2004 1:00AM

Handle on BC races likely to set record; may hit $110M

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Horsephotos
Ghostzapper (right) leads the field on the front turn of the Breeders' Cup Classic, which took in about $20 million in wagering.

Handle on the eight Breeders' Cup races at Lone Star Park in Grand Prairie, Texas, on Saturday was at least $108.4 million, according to Breeders' Cup officials, who said the number would likely rise over the next week to surpass the event's record.

Ken Kirchner, a senior vice president of Breeders' Cup, said that as of Monday afternoon, Breeders' Cup officials had received reports that indicated total wagering was $108,417,282. But two countries, Mexico and Italy, had not yet reported their handle totals, Kirchner said. Last year, the two countries combined for $1.1 million in wagering.

"It's possible we'll get to $110 million, but we do know that we will break the record," Kirchner said.

The current record, $108.6 million, was set in 2002 at Arlington Park. Handle fell 1 percent for last year's races at Santa Anita Park, to $107.5 million.

Kirchner said handle was especially strong for the $4 million Breeders' Cup Classic. A total of $20 million was wagered on the Classic compared to $17 million last year, Kirchner said.

This was the first time the Breeders' Cup was held at Lone Star Park, which erected 39,000 temporary seats for the event. The track, which opened in 1997 and is located midway between Fort Worth and Dallas, normally has permanent seating for 14,000 people.

Attendance at Lone Star Park was announced as 53,717, a number that included credentials issued to the media. For the second time in the 21 runnings of the Breeders' Cup, no walk-up admissions were allowed. On the previous occasion that admission was restricted, the 2002 Breeders' Cup at Arlington Park outside of Chicago, attendance was 46,118.

All-sources commingled handle on the entire 12-race card Saturday was $119,467,321, according to figures provided by Breeders' Cup, down 1.1 percent from last year. That figure does not include separate-pool wagering from outside the U.S. and in Canada. Bets were taken in over 20 different countries, according to Kirchner.

The record for all-sources handle on the entire card on Breeders' Cup day was set last year, when $120,631,437 was bet on a 12-race card. Kirchner said when all separate-pool betting is tallied up from this year's event, that record will likely fall, as well.

Ontrack betting on the 12-race card was $13,326,726, $3 million below the record set last year, when bettors wagered $16.3 million on the card. Attendance last year was 51,648.

The $3 million guaranteed pick six had handle of $4,566,837, an increase of 1.7 percent over last year's handle. No ticket had all six winners, but 61 consolation tickets with five of six correct paid $56,149 each. Five of the 61 consolation tickets were held by AmericaTab, an online account-wagering company that offered its bettors a chance to wager into a pooled ticket that ultimately cost $44,280 (see Breeders' Cup notes, page 4).

Handle for the eight head-to-head matchups in the Breeders' Cup races was $533,268, an increase of 53 percent over last year's total of $346,739. The totals this year were a sharp rebound for the head-to-head bets, which took in a total of $768,894 for seven matchups in 2002, the first year the wagers were offered.

The overnight rating for a five-hour live broadcast of the Breeders' Cup races on NBC-TV was a 1.9, down 13 percent from the overnight rating of 2.2 last year and the lowest overnight rating in the event's history. Each overnight rating point equals approximately 740,000 households. Share, a measure of the percentage of televisions in use that are tuned to a specific channel, declined 20 percent, from 5 to 4.

"The Breeders' Cup is a terrific event, but it just happens to fall on a Saturday, when the competition from others sports is very difficult," said Kathy Connors, a spokeswoman for NBC Sports.

The final rating for the broadcast will be released Thursday. Last year, the final rating, which generally declines compared to the overnight, was a 1.8 with a 5 share, down 10 percent from the final rating of 2.0 for the 2002 broadcast.

Ratings for horseracing's Triple Crown events have increased sharply over the past three years, largely on the strength of three straight Triple Crown bids, including those by Funny Cide and Smarty Jones.

NBC has broadcast the Breeders' Cup every year since its inception in 1984. The network's current contract expires after the 2005 event, which will be held at Churchill Downs in Kentucky. Broadcast negotiations typically take place the year before the expiration of the contract.