08/03/2009 12:00AM

Heavy rain hurts Haskell handle, attendance

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Heavy storms at Monmouth Park on Sunday did not dampen the enthusiasm of those who came to see what they wanted to see - a victory by Rachel Alexandra in the Grade 1 Haskell Invitational - but the wet weather significantly affected both the ontrack attendance and the overall handle on what could have been an even bigger day for the Jersey Shore track.

A crowd of 37,090 braved the thunderstorms and drenching rain to see Rachel Alexandra, a drop of nearly 18 percent from the 45,132 who showed up in better weather last year to see Big Brown, the Kentucky Derby and Preakness winner. This year's crowd was 10 percent higher than the 33,356 who attended the Haskell in 1999, the last time it rained on Haskell Day.

The heavy rain forced the card's two graded stakes, the Matchmaker and the Oceanport, onto the main track, and resulted in a slew of scratches. That, in turn, significantly affected handle, since the races were far less attractive from a betting standpoint. The ontrack handle was $2,423,770, a drop of nearly 33 percent from last year's $3,602,670. The day's overall handle, including off-track sites, was $12,297,624, down 30 percent from last year's $17,642,955.

"We are thrilled that so many fans braved the elements to support the biggest day in New Jersey racing," said Dennis R. Robinson, president and chief executive officer of the New Jersey Sports and Exposition Authority, which owns and operates Monmouth Park. The crowd "more than demonstrates the public's appetite for world-class racing, and Monmouth Park delivered.

"The one thing you can't control is the weather, and notwithstanding that one variable, the entire day was a wire-to-wire winner for the fans, horsemen, and the state of New Jersey."

Monmouth Park had similar bad luck in the fall of 2007, when it played host to the Breeders' Cup for the first time. It was the first time the Breeders' Cup was expanded to a two-day format, and it rained both days.

Curiously, the biggest winner of that Breeders' Cup was Curlin, who won the Classic for majority owner Jess Jackson and trainer Steve Asmussen, the same team behind Rachel Alexandra.