12/30/2002 1:00AM

Numbers down at Thistle


NORTH RANDALL, Ohio - Attendance and handle declined in 2002 at Thistledown, which closed its 187-day meet Dec. 23.

Attendance for the meet totaled 642,918, for an average of 3,438 customers per day. Both the total and average are down 5 percent from the 187-day meet in 2001, when total attendance was 678,876 and average attendance was 3,630.

All-sources handle at the meet declined 11 percent. A total of $116.8 million was bet for a daily average of $625,122. In 2001, a total of $132 million was wagered for an average of $706,105.

Total in-state live handle on the meet declined 13 percent, with $28,863,799 bet this year compared with $33,455,046 in 2001.

The out-of-state betting on Thistledown fell 10.7 percent in 2002, from $98,586,757 wagered in 2001 to $88,034,042.

William Murphy, track vice president and general manager, attributed some of the early-meetdeclines to the three Ohio Thoroughbred tracks dropping the 7 & 7 alternating-race format and offering separate race cards. Later in the season, the 7 & 7 program was revived.

"We were encouraged by the increase that we saw this fall in our handle after we rejoined the 7 & 7 program," said Murphy. "With us not being in the 7 & 7 program at the start of the season, it put us in a tough position to play catch-up. We look forward to the 2003 season and our continued involvement in the Ohio 7 & 7."

Gary Johnson and Andy Konkoly tied for leading trainer with 57 wins each. For Johnson, it was his sixth consecutive title.

Mike Rowland, who was sidelined at the end of November with a broken leg, was the winningest jockey with 145 wins from 744 mounts. The title was Rowland's sixth at Thistledown

At the Cranwood meet, the last of four meets that make up the Thistledown season, Luis Gonzalez was the leading rider and Johnson the top trainer.

Gonzalez won his second career meet title by riding 39 winners. The Cranwood meet gave Johnson a record 22 meet titles at Thistledown. He had previously been tied with Shirley Girten for the most titles won.

Crystal Appeal was Thistledown's winningest horse for 2002 with a record of 7-1-1 from 10 starts.