04/18/2016 3:00PM

Handle, field sizes rise slightly at Fair Grounds meet


The handle at Fair Grounds increased marginally compared with last season during its 80-day meet that ended March 28, according to figures released Monday by the Louisiana Racing Commission.

Fair Grounds, which canceled one card because of bad weather during a scheduled 81-day meet, handled $211,988,076 from all sources, a gross-handle increase of 0.4 percent over the $211,077,057 the track handled during 81 days (including one partial card) during its 2014-15 meet. Average daily all-sources handle was up 1.6 percent from $2,605,025 to $2,649,850.

Ontrack handle on live races, the kind of bets that generate revenue at the highest percentage for the racetrack and purses, dropped from a daily average of $136,114 last season to $129,639 this season.

Fair Grounds had a strong March, handling an average of $3.23 million daily, a 9.7 percent increase compared with March 2015. By month, though, average daily handle year over year decreased moderately in February and strongly in November. Fair Grounds raced nine days during November 2015 and seven in November 2014 and is likely to make adjustments for its 2016-17 meet. State law, however, requires Fair Grounds to schedule an 81-day meet.

Field size increased slightly from last season both overall, from 8.35 to 8.37, and on turf, from 9.12 to 9.3. The meet included 227 turf races compared with 230 in 2014-15. Short-stretch one-mile dirt races were conducted at an unprecedented level, 149 compared with 116 last season. Fair Grounds didn’t run any short-stretch miles between the 2009-10 meeting and 2014–15. There were only four dirt races all meet longer than 1 1/16 miles.

Mike Stidham, who had a strong meet from start to finish, won a narrow decision in a hard-fought race for leading trainer, winning 38 races from 186 starters compared with Joe Sharp’s 36-for-227 mark and Tom Amoss’s 35-for-136 record. Trainer Brad Cox had a remarkable meet with his grass runners, who won 22 of 53 starts, a 41.5 percent strike rate.

Florent Geroux was the meet’s runaway leading rider, booting home 87 winners from just 387 mounts. Mitchell Murrill, riding his first meet as a journeyman, had an excellent winter to finish second with 66 winners from 455 mounts, edging Colby Hernandez, who went 65 for 472.

Midwest Thoroughbreds was the meet’s leading owner with 16 winners from 68 runners. Hugh Robertson, known more as a trainer, was the second-leading owner with 12 winners from 27 runners.