10/28/2002 12:00AM

Numbers rise at Arlington meet


CHICAGO - Arlington Park's 2002 race meet concluded Sunday, and with it a two-year shift in schedule and purpose that culminated in Saturday's Breeders' Cup World Thoroughbred Championships. Arlington, traditionally a summer racetrack, became a summer and fall track the last two seasons to play host to the Breeders' Cup, which went off to widespread acclaim and a sellout crowd on Saturday.

Tradition returns next year, when Arlington opens on Mother's Day and ends in late summer.

With a 107-day race meet that was six days longer than last year's meet, Arlington posted average gains over its 2001 meet. Excluding Breeders' Cup Day, which skews comparisons between the last two years, Arlington posted gains across the board, especially in out-of-state handle. Average daily out-of-state handle this year was $2,923,163, a 19 percent increase over last year's daily average of $2,460,018 during a 101-day meet.

Daily average ontrack handle this year increased a modest 3 percent, from $562,421 to $578,209. In all, average daily total handle was up 14 percent, from $3,420,430 to $3,909,831. Average daily attendance increased 5 percent, from 6,001 to 6,291.

Arlington officials had hoped that increased national prominence from the Breeders' Cup would ripple back through the meet, and on Monday Arlington president Steve Sexton pointed to the out-of-state gains.

"I think we saw that with the out-of-state numbers," Sexton said. "We weren't really in any more outlets this year than last year. The quality was about the same this year as last year."

Limited gains in ontrack handle and attendance, however, showed that the Breeders' Cup had little effect on a local audience. Sexton said he hopes a return to Arlington's traditional schedule next season will provide a boost to local business.

But other issues are looming. The Illinois legislature declined to fund the purse subsidy known as recapture, and Arlington this year overpaid purses during the meet by about $2.7 million. Arlington and local horsemen have agreed to put the discrepancy on hold until next year, hoping state money will flow again either through recapture, casinos, or ontrack slot machines. Arlington officials and horsemen's officials will soon re-open serious discussions involving stakes racing, overnight purses, and the Arlington's Summer Festival in 2002.

Next year could see a change in the allocation of stalls at Arlington. With an earlier opening, Arlington will race head to head in May, June, and July with its sister track, Churchill Downs. Arlington will seek a stronger commitment from Midwest horsemen to keep the stalls full earlier in the meet.

One stable that surely will be back is Wayne Catalano's. Catalano set an Arlington record for wins with 64. Catalano's owner, Frank Calabrese, set a record of his own with 66 wins. Jockey Rene Douglas ran away with his second straight riding title with 167 victories. His nearest pursuer was Elvis Trujillo, who lost his apprentice allowance in July and was suspended several times for careless riding but still wound up with 85 wins.