06/05/2012 1:51PM

Hollywood Park: Slumping handle could cause purse cut

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INGLEWOOD, Calif. – A decline in all-sources handle could lead to a purse cut at the current spring-summer meeting at Betfair Hollywood Park, according to the track’s president, Jack Liebau.

Liebau said last weekend that handle has declined 5 percent compared with the 2011 meeting, attributing much of the reduction to lower field sizes.

Through Sunday, the 25th day of the 50-day meeting, the track had run 220 races with an average of 7.52 starters per race. Last year, through the first week of June, the track ran 253 races with an average of 7.64 starters. The 2011 meeting began one week earlier than this year’s season.

Last year, for the entire spring-summer meeting, fields averaged 7.69 starters.

Larger fields provide more betting opportunities and lead to larger pools.

Liebau said that business slumped last week, leading to concern about purse levels. Last Thursday, for example, the ontrack handle was $384,855, part of an all-sources handle of $4,688,552 for an eight-race program. Both were the lowest in their respective categories for the meeting, according to figures released to the media on a daily basis.

“We’re concerned,” Liebau said. “We may have to cut purses. We are not getting the field sizes that we’re expecting.

“Everything starts with the product. We’re not getting the participation that we thought. We can’t do anything if people don’t enter. I find it depressing. We’re in a critical stage as far as entries are concerned.”

Sunday, the track put a notice on the overnight for Thursday and Friday’s races urging owners and trainers to start more horses. The two-paragraph statement said the track will hold discussions with the Thoroughbred Owners of California and California Thoroughbred Trainers about the allocations of stalls for horsemen who are not active at the meeting.

“The simple accumulation of horses shall no longer guarantee stall space,” the statement read in part.

There are approximately 2,800 horses based at Hollywood Park and Santa Anita this spring.

For Thursday and Friday’s eight-race programs, there are 57 entered for Thursday and 60 entered for Friday. The numbers of starters is likely to be fewer, after scratches.

For Saturday’s program, which includes the simulcast of the Belmont Stakes, the track is aiming to card 11 races. There were 11 races on the days of the Kentucky Derby and Preakness Stakes.

Business should be better this week. Thursday’s program has a pick six carryover of $107,825. Interest in Saturday’s Belmont Stakes will be high, with locally based I’ll Have Another aiming for the Triple Crown.

“I’ll be disappointed if we don’t do 10,000,” Liebau said of Saturday’s ontrack crowd. “We are doing everything we can to promote the day.”