05/22/2008 11:00PM

Handle on holiday soars past $1M

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VANCOUVER, British Columbia - The all-sources live handle at Hastings topped the $1 million figure for the first time this year last Monday.

The $1,001,417 wagered on the Victoria Day holiday represented a 35 percent increase over the all-sources handle on the same date last year.

"We had a huge weekend," said Raj Mutti, general manager at Hastings. "That put our all-sources live handle up slightly for the year. What we are really pleased about is that our per-race average is up."

According to Mutti, the per-race average this year is $83,011, compared with $81,135 for the same time period last year, an increase of 2.3 percent.

Mutti cites the quality of racing as the main reason for the handle going up, especially last weekend.

"We had great cards all three days and relatively full fields," he said. "It shows that if we can put on a good product our patrons will show their appreciation."

It's a bit surprising handle has gone up while a massive renovation project to install 600 slot machines is under way. It has been a slight inconvenience to customers. According to Mutti, the ontrack live handle is down about 5 percent.

"We budgeted for about a 5 percent decline ontrack so we're pretty happy with how it has gone so far," he said.

There seems to be a positive side to Hastings being a construction zone. With the whole bottom level of the grandstand unavailable to patrons, it feels like the crowds are much larger than they have been in the recent past. The crowded conditions make for a festive atmosphere. Admission is free at Hastings so no attendance figures are available.

"Our crowds do seem larger and it shows in an increase in our food and beverage numbers," said Mutti. "It also seems like we are getting a much younger group of people coming out. A lot of them are new to the sport so they aren't betting as much as our traditional fans. Hopefully, when they get more comfortable with horse racing it will show up in our mutuel totals."

Mutti also said that the goal of having the new slots floor open by mid-summer is on schedule.

Hastings doesn't release slots figures but it is pretty obvious that since the live meet started the temporary slots floor has been very busy.

Mark LeSage will attest to that. LeSage is part-owner of Destiny's Home, a high-priced claiming and allowance filly based here with trainer Quint McCabe. He is also a regular visitor to the slots floor.

"It is so busy down there on race days that I can't get close to my favorite machine," LeSage said.

No one wants to face True Metropolitan

Trainer Terry Jordan and owner Bob Cheema are upset that True Metropolitan was written out of an allowance race that was contested here last Monday. They were hoping to run True Metropolitan in a no-conditions allowance that was in the condition book, but when no horses entered, racing secretary Lorne Mitchell put up an extra, excluding horses that had won a stakes in 2008.

True Metropolitan, who has been the top older horse in Canada for the past two years, won the George Royal Stakes in his first start this year.

"Not one horse entered the allowance race," said Mitchell. "Not even True Metropolitan. I would have rather seen True Metropolitan run here with the rest of them, and I think our fans deserve to see horses like him run here. When it was clear it wasn't going to happen, though, I put up the race and it filled easily.

"It's a tough situation and we went through it last year with Monashee. I've never been anywhere where trainers boycott other horses like they do here."

"I don't think it was right," said Jordan. "It was supposed to be a prep for the John Longden and why do the other horses get to run and we have to ship to Toronto? I think we'll bring him back just to annoy everyone."

True Metropolitan flew out of Vancouver on Wednesday and is stabled at Woodbine, where Jordan said he will make his next start in the Grade 3, $150,000 Eclipse Stakes at 1 1/16 miles on June 7 or a 1 1/8-mile allowance that carries a $96,700 purse on June 6.

B R Remark searching for sprints

The absence of True Metropolitan helped last year's local sprint champion B R Remark get back on track. With Keveh Nicholls aboard, B R Remark came from off the pace to beat Sir Gallovic and Spaghetti Mouse in the last few jumps.

B R Remark had finished third to True Metropolitan in the George Royal in his first start this year. In his final start in 2007, he finished up the track after breaking slowly in the Governors Cup Handicap at Fairplex.

His trainer, Brian Giesbrecht, is unsure where B R Remark will start next.

"I would like to keep him sprinting," said Giesbrecht. "But there aren't any races here for him until late summer. I'll have to see what sprints there are in Alberta and at Emerald Downs."

Giesbrecht said he would nominate B R Remark to the 1 1/16-mile John Longden here on June 7.

"He is just a much better horse sprinting, but it doesn't cost very much to look and if it comes up a bit weak we might run," he said.