12/21/2005 12:00AM

Northampton drops racing


The Northampton, Mass., Fair will not hold horse racing next year, the first time in 150 years racing has not been part of the event, fair officials told the Associated Press.

Competition from casinos and the state lottery has cut into the racing handle to the point where staging the sport was not financially viable, according to the fair's president, Alan Jacque.

The fair's general manager, Bruce Shallcross, told the Associated Press on Monday that although the fair showed a profit on horse racing at its 2005 meet, average daily handle on the races had dropped from approximately $800,000 in the mid-1980's to less than $230,000 this year.

"It's the same thing that's hurt all the other tracks," Shallcross said of expanded legalized gambling. "The live racing handle has gone down dramatically everywhere."

The cost of maintaining the fair's racing surface was also a concern, according to the Associated Press report. The Massachusetts State Racing Commission had criticized the track's condition in 2003 after seven horses were injured and subsequently euthanized.

Racing began at the fair in 1856 and had continued without interruption, switching from primarily harness racing to Thoroughbreds in 1943.

The fair's board of directors made the decision to end racing last week and has notified the racing commission, according to Shallcross, who said he expects the commission to discontinue the fair's racing license at its next meeting.