11/25/2002 12:00AM

Handle on Meadowlands drops

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Ontrack betting on New Jersey races at The Meadowlands plunged 30.6 percent to $424,830 daily during the track's 63-day meet, the most dramatic of the across-the-board drops in business to affect the track this year.

The total average daily handle on The Meadowlands races, which includes out-of-state bets, dropped 19.6 percent to $1,824,599 million. Average attendance plummeted 16.8 percent to 4,068.

Conversely, average ontrack wagering - including bets made on races outside of the state - was up 4.7 percent, indicating that bettors overwhelmingly preferred races at other tracks to what The Meadowlands offered.

Races at the Meadowlands this year were marked by short fields. Meadowlands officials said that the 63-day meet, along with a 78-day meet at Monmouth Park directly preceding it, stretched the purse account thin, leading horsemen to seek races elsewhere.

In 2001, the racing industry in New Jersey received an $18 million purse subsidy from the state, $12.7 million of which went to Thoroughbred purses. This year, the subsidy was not renewed because of budget cuts in the state.

Horsemen's officials and racing officials have said they are working to reduce the number of live racing dates for 2003. Last week, the New Jersey Racing Commission approved 147 dates for Monmouth and the Meadowlands, six more than were held at the tracks this year.