05/20/2007 11:00PM

Mixed numbers for Preakness Day


All-sources handle on the Preakness Stakes on Saturday at Pimlico Race Course was $57,360,494, the third-highest handle figure for the race in its history and a slight gain over last year's figure, according to numbers released by Pimlico on Monday.

The increase in betting on the Preakness was part of a mixed bag of figures for Pimlico on Saturday, as total handle on the 13-race card on Saturday was down slightly, as were television ratings for a live broadcast of the race on NBC. Pimlico reported, however, that a record crowd of 121,263 was in attendance on Saturday, breaking the record of 118,402 set last year. It was the fourth straight year that Pimlico reported a record crowd.

All-sources handle for the card was $84,771,557, a decline of 3.2 percent compared with last year's total handle figure of $87,544,368. Two weeks ago, betting on the Kentucky Derby at Churchill Downs and its undercard also fell, after 16 years of uninterrupted growth.

Handle this year on the Preakness itself was up 1.7 percent compared with last year's all-sources figure of $56,394,560. Both last year and this year, the Preakness had a nine-horse field, but last year the Kentucky Derby winner, Barbaro, was 1-2. The favorite this year, Kentucky Derby winner Street Sense, was 1.30-to-1.

The record for handle on the Preakness was set in 2004 at $60,861,090. That year, Afleet Alex was the 3.30-1 favorite in a field of 13.

The handle figures are not yet final because of wagering totals from several international markets, though the final numbers are not expected to deviate significantly from those available on Monday, Pimlico officials said.

Lou Raffetto, the chief operating officer of the Maryland Jockey Club, which owns Pimlico and its sister track, Laurel Park, said that attendance figures benefited from good weather on Saturday. For the most part, the day was sunny and warm, with the exception of a shower that hit right before the horses began to be saddled for the Preakness.

The handle figure for the entire card, Raffetto said, was hurt somewhat by a five-horse field and a heavy favorite in the Barbaro Stakes, which was won by Chelokee at 1-5. Chelokee is trained by Michael Matz, the former trainer of Barbaro, who died earlier this year as a result of an injury suffered in last year's Preakness.

"On any given day you're going to take a hit on a 1-5 favorite in a five-horse field," Raffetto said. "But that worked out fine considering Michael Matz won it and how nice a story that was. We're ecstatic with the way the day played out, and we're happy with the handle numbers."

The overnight television rating for the 98-minute broadcast on NBC was a 5.4, down 5.2 percent from last year's overnight rating of 5.7, according to figures provided by NBC. Share, which measures the percentage of televisions in use that are tuned to a broadcast, was 13, down from last year's 14. Final television ratings for the entire broadcast will be available on Thursday.

NBC cut away from its coverage of a National Hockey League playoff game to begin the Preakness broadcast as scheduled at 5 p.m. The game, which drew a 1.2 overnight rating, had gone into overtime and had not concluded.