08/06/2006 11:00PM

New Jersey weekend dips

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Over 70,000 fans turned out over the weekend for the two biggest days of the year in New Jersey racing.

On Saturday, the $1.5 million Hambletonian for trotters attracted 29,531 at the Meadowlands Racetrack. The combined handle from all sources was over $8 million. In 2005, the race drew 31,245 with a combined handle of $9 million.

Monmouth Park hosted the $1 million Haskell Invitational on Sunday before 42,318, the fifth highest turnout for the race. The total handle was $11.8 million. Both figures were lower than in 2005, when the Haskell Day crowd was 43,769 and the combined handle topped $12.5 million. The record crowd for a Haskell card is the 53,638 who turned out in 2003 to see Peace Rules win.

Still, the large crowds were a welcome development for the beleaguered New Jersey Sports and Exposition Authority, which owns both tracks. New Jersey racing was crippled during the first seven days of July by the shutdown of state government. The Meadowlands lost four live cards; Monmouth two. A heat wave last week forced the cancellation of Monmouth's Wednesday card.

The sports authority again offered a cross-breed daily double combining the Hambletonian and the Haskell. The $2 ticket combining Glidemaster ($14) in the Hambo with Bluegrass Cat ($4) in the Haskell paid $43.80.