05/02/2014 7:46PM

Kentucky Oaks handle down 1.6 percent

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Handle on the Kentucky Oaks at Churchill Downs on Friday was down 1.6 percent this year, or approximately $200,000, on a day when overall handle on the 12-race card was down 5.5 percent, or $2.5 million, according to a side-by-side comparison of charts of the races.

The Oaks this year had a 12-horse field, headed by even-money favorite Untapable, compared with a 10-horse field last year. The field was reduced by one Friday when Empress of Midway was scratched on the advice of the track veterinarian after she flipped in the gate, resulting in a refund of all the wagers on the filly, including horizontal bets like pick threes and pick fours.

Handle on the Oaks and the full Oaks card was being closely watched by the racing industry this year because of a deeply unpopular decision by Churchill Downs to raise its takeout rates on bets, effective with the start of the spring meet. Rates on straight wagers rose from 16 percent to 17.5 percent, while rates on exotics rose from 19 percent to 22 percent, spurring some groups to call for a boycott of the track’s races.

For the entire 12-race card, 114 horses ran, compared with 118 horses last year, a decline of 3.4 percent. All else being equal, field size is one of the primary determinants of handle, and the rule of thumb is that a 10 percent decline or increase in field size accounts for a 10 percent decline or increase in handle.

Handle on the Oaks was $14.02 million, compared with $14.24 million last year, according to the charts. Handle on the entire card was $43.14 million, compared with $45.65 million last year.

Attendance on a cool and overcast day was 113,071, Churchill reported, down slightly from reported attendance of 113,820 last year.