11/10/2003 12:00AM

Louisiana Downs handle up

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Louisiana Downs closed out its first meet under the ownership of Harrah's Entertainment on Sunday with a double-digit increase in handle. During the 80-day meet, the track handled $2,499,708 a day on its races, up 11.8 percent over the corresponding meet in 2002.

Attendance records were not kept this year because admission was free with the May opening of a 905-machine slots casino at the track. Patrons bet an average of $231,384 a day on the track's races, up 4 percent over last year. Offtrack, Louisiana Downs handled an average of $2,268,324 a day on its races, up 12.7 percent from 2002.

Purses were also up, to $190,853 a day for the 52-day summer meet and $137,047 daily in the 28-day fall meet. The respective numbers from a year ago were $187,639 and $125,002.

Trainer Cole Norman won his sixth straight Louisiana Downs title with 94 wins and meet-high earnings of $1,349,598. Among jockeys, Gerard Melancon edged Kirk LeBlanc, 99 wins to 97, to earn his second straight Louisiana Downs title. Melancon's mounts earned a meet-best $1,517,522. The leading owner was Steve Asmussen, with 17 victories.