06/14/2005 12:00AM

Handle increases at Pimlico

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Pimlico Race Course closed its 39-day spring meeting on Sunday with a 7 percent increase in total handle over last year's results, according to figures released Tuesday by the Maryland Jockey Club.

Total handle during the meet, including betting on 17 simulcast-only days, was $243.4 million, compared with $227.4 million last year. Average daily handle was $5.5 million, a 6 percent increase over last year's figure of $5.2 million.

During the meet, Pimlico broke its handle records for the Preakness Stakes, the second leg of the Triple Crown. Total handle on the Preakness card this year was $91 million, up from record handle of $88 million in 2004.

Lou Raffetto, chief operating officer of the MJC, said that betting was helped by full fields and a lack of rain during the meet, which kept more races on the grass. He also said that fields benefited from a return of horses to the state after many trainers left last year because of renovations to the MJC's sister track, Laurel Park, which was closed for training most of the year.

Raffetto said that last year, Pimlico was able to draw on 1,600 horses for races. This year, that number rebounded to 2,000, the same level as in 2003. Average field size increased from 7.5 last year to 7.8, Raffetto said.