01/03/2012 4:08PM

Hawthorne: Longer meet results in average handle dip

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STICKNEY, Ill. – A return to a five-day race week boosted gross handle at the Hawthorne Race Course 2011 fall-winter meet that ended Dec. 31, but average daily handle at the track fell compared to the 2010 fall-winter meeting.

Hawthorne raced 64 days during the 2011 meet, compared to 49 in 2010, when the track trimmed the racing week to four days from the fall-winter standard of five. The four-day weeks last season produced a spike in field size and a 7.8 percent average daily all-sources handle increase, while gross handle accordingly declined. In 2011, 15 additional racing days led to an all-sources gross handle increase of about 6 percent, from $135,661,986 to $143,569,455, while gross ontrack handle on live Hawthorne races increased about 12 percent over 2010, rising to $5,955,497 from $5,248,589.

Gross handle, however, did not keep pace with the 31 percent increase in 2011 race days, and thus the average daily all-sources handle on the Hawthorne product fell 19 percent compared to 2010, from $2,807,811 to $2,283,428, according to figures provided by the Illinois Racing Board. Average daily ontrack handle on Hawthorne races did better, dropping 13 percent from 2010, though the average daily ontrack figure fell below $100,000 – to $93,523 – for the first time in recent memory.

Hawthorne officials point out that year-to-year comparisons between 2010 and 2011 are compromised by the schedule change. But the 2009 fall-winter season was comprised of five-day weeks and included 63 days of racing, much like 2011, and gross handle two seasons ago was $161,774,928, 11 percent more than Hawthorne handled this year. The decrease in gross from 2009 came despite a boost in purses this fall provided by the release of casino impact-fee funds to the racing industry in August. Hawthorne used money from the impact fee to zero out a significant purse overpayment before the fall-winter meet began.

Field size dropped from the 2010 fall-winter bonanza but, at 8.6 starters per race, fell in line with the last four five-day-per-week fall-winter meetings.

Florent Geroux started the meet hot and won his first riding title, booting home 77 winners to 65 for second-place Constantino Roman. Roger Brueggemann easily won the training title by sending out 51 winners, more than twice the next-highest total. Midwest Thoroughbred’s won a meet-best 31 races.

Live racing returns to Hawthorne on Feb. 17.