04/19/2006 11:00PM

Laurel handle takes large jump

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Average all-sources wagering on Laurel Park's races during the track's winter meeting that ended April 15 shot up 44 percent compared with last year, according to figures released by the Maryland track Thursday.

The average daily wagering figure on Laurel's races over 72 live racing days was $2.83 million, up from $1.96 million over 70 racing days in 2005, according to the figures. Total wagering on Laurel's races increased 48 percent, from $137.4 million to $203.8 million.

Maryland Jockey Club officials credited turf racing during the winter for much of the gain. Laurel widened and revamped its turf course last year in order to provide grass racing opportunities year-round, and horsemen responded by sending an average of 11.6 horses to the gate in each turf race.

After the turf course was unveiled last year at Laurel's 2005 fall meet, handle was up 30 percent compared with the same meet in 2004.

The total out-of-state handle on Laurel's winter races increased 55.1 percent, from $118 million to $183.1 million.

The increases came despite a nearly meet-long quarantine of the track and its sister track, Pimlico, because of an outbreak of equine herpesvirus in Maryland and other locations in the East.