05/31/2010 11:00PM

Monmouth business booming

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Betting and attendance figures for the first five days of the Monmouth Park meet have far exceeded the expectations of the track's operator and the racing officials who supported the adoption of an experimental 50-day meet guaranteeing $1 million in average purse distribution per day, the racing officials said.

Over the first five days, average handle has been $8,263,283 per card, up 162 percent compared to the total average for a 93-day meet last year and up 122 percent compared to the handle on corresponding dates last year, according to figures supplied by Monmouth and on race charts. Average attendance is up 86 percent, while field size has increased by nearly two horses per race, from 7.5 last year to 9.4 this year.

The early returns justify Monmouth's decision to drop the vast majority of its weekday cards in favor of a Friday-through-Sunday schedule that seeks to capitalize on the higher visibility of racing on weekends, said Dennis Drazin, a former head of the New Jersey Thoroughbred Horsemen's Association who pushed for the new schedule and purse outlays.

"I see a lot of excitement at the track," Drazin said. "People who haven't been coming for years are showing up. And people who used to say that Monmouth was unbettable are now saying we're the best product out there."

Drazin said that the New Jersey Sports and Exposition Authority budgeted for average handle of $4.5 million this year, compared to $3.15 million last year. "Secretly, everyone was hoping for six," Drazin said, "and now everyone is just astounded that we're over eight."

Charts for the races show that horses are shipping into Monmouth from all over the U.S., most notably from tracks in New York, Pennsylvania, Delaware, and Maryland, along with the occasional horse from Churchill Downs and tracks in California. The horses are lured by the highest purse distribution in the nation, with first-time allowance horses running for $80,000 and maidens running for $75,000.

Activity at the claiming box has been especially high, with 53 horses changing hands over the first five days.

Monmouth has also experienced newfound success with its pick five wager. This year, average handle for the 50-cent minimum bet has been $275,000, a ten-fold increase over average handle last year on the bet. Part of that success can be attributed to a $123,000 carryover after the first card, which attracted $560,000 in new wagers, but the lowest the bet has handled has been $193,000.