11/02/2009 12:00AM

Keeneland fall meet handle rises


LEXINGTON - Average all-sources daily wagering on races from Keeneland Racecourse in Lexington for its 17 days of fall racing recovered strongly this year, up 8.7 percent, but the figures failed to restore wagering levels to the heights the track established prior to the recession, according to figures provided by the track.

Average all-sources wagering was $7,003,277, up from $6,440,170 last year. Though the number is a significant increase over the depressed figures from last year's fall meet, the handle number has a long way to go to return to 2007 levels, when average all-sources wagering during the 17-day fall meet was $7,835,934.

Higher wagering at Keeneland may be an additional indication that the recession's effects on nationwide wagering totals have ebbed, at least in pockets of the country. Though national handle through the first nine months of the year remains down 10.2 percent, according to figures compiled by Equibase, the national decline softened in September when wagering pulled back by less than 1 percent from the September, 2008, figure.

Rogers Beasley, Keeneland's director of racing, said on Monday that the recovery in the track's handle figures was largely due to an improved economy and the track's ability to maintain full fields of racing as other tracks have continued to struggle to fill their race cards. According to Keeneland, the average field size for all racing was 9.96 horses per race this year, with the number slightly higher for races over the artificial surface and slightly lower for turf races.

"It's just what everyone says, full fields and good racing will attract betting," Beasley said.

Keeneland's fall-meet racing signal was also available for the first time on the national account-wagering platforms owned and operated by Churchill Downs Inc. and Magna Entertainment. Prior to Keeneland's spring meet this year, the track had been an exclusive partner of Television Games Network, which limited the resale of Keeneland's signal to other account-wagering operations.

October was unusually cold and rainy this year in Lexington, and ontrack attendance suffered as a result. Average attendance plummeted 16.9 percent, from 14,066 last October to 11,307 this year.

Ontrack handle did not decline at the same rate, falling 9.1 percent, which indicated to Beasley that the fall-off in attendance was due to fewer college students and day-trippers, who typically do not bet as much as regular racing fans. In addition, the drop in wagering ontrack and the increase in wagering overall indicated that demand for Keeneland's signal in out-of-state locations was especially robust.

"The hard-core supporters were out there," Beasley said.