01/02/2002 1:00AM

Maryland's handle rises in 2001


In a year in which most things appeared to go wrong for Maryland racetracks, handle actually went up.

Overall, all-sources handle on races at Pimlico Race Course and Laurel Park in 2001 increased 7 percent over 2000, from $367.7 million to $391.4 million, according to the Maryland Jockey Club, which owns Pimlico and Laurel.

Average field size increased nearly 10 percent over 2000, from 7.9 horses per race to 8.6 in 2001. A larger average field size is believed to translate into higher handle.

In November and December, handle on races at Laurel Park increased 14 percent, despite a 9 percent drop in races run.

The handle increases were one of the few bright spots for Maryland racing in 2001. During the year, the racing industry lost a $10 million purse subsidy; Laurel Park was closed when mysterious cracks began appearing in the grandstand glass; and an agreement between Thoroughbred and harness interests fell apart, jeopardizing the chances for a purse subsidy in 2002.