05/04/2006 11:00PM

Handle up though crowds drop

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ELMONT, N.Y. - Handle, field size, and average purses were up, but average ontrack attendance was down at Aqueduct Racetrack's 81-day winter-spring meet, which ran from Jan. 1 through April 30.

Aqueduct ran one fewer day than the previous year, and ran 23 fewer races, 12 of which fell victim to two partial-card cancellations, on April 5 and April 23, when racing was halted after three races each day.

Total attendance was 248,110, a daily average of 3,063 that was down 3.3 percent from last year's average of 3,168.

Total ontrack handle on live races at Aqueduct was $93,816,864, up 4.5 percent from last year's $89,747,604, for a daily average of $1,158,233 that was up 5.8 percent from last year's average of $1,094,483.

Total all-sources handle on Aqueduct races was $690,205,866, a 1.3 percent gain from the 2004-2005 total of $681,236,048, for a daily average of $8,521,060 that was up 2.6 percent from last year's $8,307,757.

The average field size was 8.08 starters, a 7.8 percent increase from last year's 7.49 per race.

Betting interests averaged 7.88 per race, up 7.3 percent from last year's 7.34.

Purses averaged $51,834 per race, up 1.6 percent from last year's $51,030.

"We're thrilled with the way the first four months of the year have gone for us," said Bill Nader, senior vice president at the New York Racing Association. "We're one of the only tracks in North America where field size is moving in a positive direction."

Eibar Coa and Gary Contessa, the top jockey and trainer on the inner track, also led the standings for the one month of racing on the main track, which began March 29.

Coa outdistanced runner-up Mike Luzzi, 30-17. Contessa saddled two winners on closing day to overtake Richard Dutrow Jr., 17-16.

Among owners, Castle Village Farm, which consists of 10 separate partnerships, won with 5 of 15 starters to edge out Maggi Moss, who won with 4 of her 15 runners.