06/26/2006 12:00AM

Handle on Plate card down


ETOBICOKE, Ontario - Striking mutuel clerks and their supporters maintained picket lines at all seven Woodbine entrances beginning at 8 a.m. Sunday and continued through that day's Queen's Plate program.

While their presence didn't seem to be much of a deterrent to would-be racegoers, the ontrack handle on Woodbine's card did decline significantly.

The ontrack handle on Woodbine's 11 live races Sunday was $1,197,159, down 34 percent from $1,820,196 on Queen's Plate Day in 2005. This year's all-sources handle on Woodbine's live card was $4,967,164, a decline of 14 percent from $5,778,542 last year.

The crowd was estimated at 20,000, which would have been all that was expected under ideal conditions on this Queen's Plate Day.

"We didn't see any impact on attendance," said Jane Holmes, Woodbine's director of corporate affairs.

Management and supervisory staff manned as many mutuel windows as possible, including many open only to sell and cash wagering vouchers for automated wagering machines.

Holmes, however, points to a couple of mitigating factors in the decline in handle.

The number of starters on Sunday's card was 90, down from 107 on the 11-race program last year.

And, the Canadian dollar is approximately 8 percent stronger in comparison with the U.S. dollar, meaning U.S. dollars wagered on Woodbine would have a lesser impact on the all-sources handle compared with last year.

The strike did affect the Queen's Plate in terms of tradition, however. For the first time since Woodbine opened in 1956, no representative of the Queen of England was on hand.

James Bartleman, Ontario's lieutenant governor, was scheduled to represent Queen Elizabeth II, but his visit was canceled because of the presence of the picketers.

The mutuel clerks, members of the Canadian Racetrack Workers Union, which is aligned with Teamsters Local 419, walked off the job at 6 p.m. last Wednesday. The dispute is over scheduling and seniority issues.

As of Monday, no additional talks between Woodbine and the union had been scheduled.