10/08/2008 12:00AM

Keeneland handle dips opening weekend


Despite flawless weather and a sensational three days of racing, Keeneland Race Course reported substantial business declines for the opening weekend of its 17-day fall meet.

Combined ontrack handle at the Lexington, Ky., track was $5,225,476, down more than 11 percent from corresponding figures for the 2007 meet, while all-sources handle of $25.9 million was down 18 percent. Ontrack attendance of 47,179 was down more than 10 percent.

Jim Williams, director of communications at Keeneland, said the downward spiral most likely is a reflection of the sagging American economy.

“We view it as people being very, very cautious with their money,” he said. “We had outstanding weather, outstanding racing, and still our numbers were down.”

Keeneland was down 11 percent in all-sources handle at its 2008 spring meet, a trend that has been followed to a similar degree at meets at other major American tracks, including Churchill Downs, Del Mar, Saratoga, and Arlington Park.

The first three days of the Keeneland fall meet incorporate the traditional “FallStars Weekend” program, a series of important preps toward the Breeders’ Cup. Nine stakes, including five Grade 1 events, were run Friday through Sunday.

Williams said the downturn during the live meet was not surprising, considering wagering at Keeneland on simulcast imports during the recently ended 22-day meet at Turfway Park was down about 24 percent.

“Everybody’s down,” said Williams.