11/28/2005 1:00AM

Handle shows sharp increase

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With a big boost in the sale of its signal to simulcast outlets across the country, Hoosier Park closed out its 59-day Thoroughbred season Friday with a significant gain in average handle.

With Hoosier Park riding the corporate selling power of its majority owner, Churchill Downs Inc., the track posted a 37.5 percent gain in daily offtrack handle on its live racing this year, averaging $1,678,663 per day compared with $1,221,009 in 2004. The ontrack handle on live racing was nearly steady, with a gain of 1.8 percent, from $51,763 daily in 2004 to $52,679 this year.

The figures combined for a total all-sources daily average handle of $1,731,342, a 36 percent increase over the 2004 daily all-sources average of $1,272,772 for 59 race dates.

Attendance was up 21 percent, from an average of 951 in 2004 to 1,154 this year.

Another factor in the increase was the size of race cards presented this year as Hoosier implemented a policy of 12 races nightly, compared with 11 last year. With that policy in place about a third of the way into the meet, Hoosier carded a total of 718 races this year, compared with 692 a year ago. With cancellations, the number of races run this year was 690, compared with 680 a year ago.

Weather hampered the final three weeks of the season, with cold weather and poor track conditions forcing the cancellation of the Nov. 17 card. On Nov. 16 and Nov. 24, racing was suspended after three races because of bad weather.

In a race that went down to the meet's final day, Ralph Martinez claimed his third consecutive training title at the track with 40 wins from 182 starts. Barb McBride led for a week late in the meet before finishing second with 37 wins from 146 starts.

The riding title went to Rodney Prescott with 81 winners. Roberto Villafan gave chase through the meet to finish with 71 winners, including five on the the closing-night card.

Julie Veltman was the top Quarter Horse rider with nine wins, and Scott Orm was second with seven. Ron Raper won the training title with a 9-7 advantage over Cindy Sanders. The Quarter Horse meet is conducted as more of an exhibition season, with three Quarter Horse races on the end of a card on 12 selected nights.