07/18/2005 12:00AM

Handle, crowds both take a drop


GRAND PRAIRIE, Texas - Lone Star Park closed out its 67-date meet Sunday with declines in average daily attendance and handle from the corresponding meet a year ago, but an increase in purses. The track raced 63 spring dates last year, then held a special fall meet to host the Breeders' Cup.

This meet, handle on Lone Star's races averaged $2.13 million a day, which was down 7.5 percent from last spring. An average of $465,000 a day was bet on Lone Star races ontrack, a decline of 14 percent, and an average of $1.67 million offtrack, a 5.5 percent slip. Attendance averaged 7,000, which was down 19.5 percent.

Purses rose 13 percent to an average of $214,000 a card. The reason for the bigger purses, officials said, were several days of simulcast handle of $1 million or more before the season opened in April. Lone Star simulcasts year round.

"It was obviously a challenging meet," said Jeff Greco, general manager of Lone Star. "It's easier now to wager online, to bet video poker, and to bet the horses at home, and that's illegal in Texas."

Greco also noted Texas is surrounded by states with casinos. This year, Lone Star's meet overlapped for 12 of its 14 weeks with Louisiana Downs, which now has a slots casino. The tracks are about a three-hour drive apart, and have never conflicted for that long of a period.

"The overlaps, they hurt," said Greco. "They hurt horse populations. They divide wagering dollars."

Lone Star had 114 races with six or fewer starters this meet, as opposed to 70 such races a year ago. The average starters per race dropped from 9.3 last spring to 8.6.

Jockey Cliff Berry won his first Lone Star title with 87 wins, and he also topped all riders in mount earnings, with $1,721,563. Steve Asmussen secured his seventh Lone Star title with 63 wins, and his stable earnings of $1,565,892 led all trainers. Tom Durant won his fourth Lone Star owner title with 18 wins. The horse of the meet was Supah Blitz, who won a four-way photo in the Grade 3 Lone Star Park Handicap.