11/01/2004 1:00AM

Meet's handle just shy of last year's record


Business figures for the 17-day Keeneland fall meet that ended Saturday were down marginally from last year's record totals, leading officials at the Lexington, Ky., track to declare their satisfaction with the meet.

"Considering that we are comparing to a record meeting, and coupled with the fact that an inordinate amount of rain fell in October, the fall meeting remained quite strong," said Keeneland's president, Nick Nicholson. "After all, you're talking about the second-best fall meet in track history."

Gross handle from all sources totaled more than $125.7 million, just shy of the $126 million wagered last year during a 17-day meet. The daily average was nearly $7.4 million, less than one-half of 1 percent off the 2003 standard (all handle figures include imported simulcasts).

Similarly, ontrack handle totaled $27,397,956 for a daily average of $1,611,644, also less than 1 percent behind the fall meet last year. Daily attendance averaged 13,389, down less than 2 percent.

Purse levels remained high by averaging $602,132 daily on a gross payout of more than $10.2 million. The average is highest of any North American track.

On the track, Rafael Bejarano captured the riding title with 26 wins, including six stakes, while Nick Zito and Steve Asmussen tied for leading trainer with 11 wins. G. Watts Humphrey, including horses he owned in partnerships, led the owner standings with seven wins.

For Bejarano, the meet title gives him an unprecedented sweep on the Kentucky circuit, after he won titles this year at Churchill Downs, Turfway Park, Ellis Park, and Kentucky Downs. By winning his first Keeneland title, Bejarano became the first jockey besides Pat Day to win the fall meet since Shane Sellers in 1997.