04/11/2004 11:00PM

Oaklawn handle numbers mixed


HOT SPRINGS, Ark - Oaklawn closed out its 100th anniversary season Saturday with increases in attendance, total ontrack handle, and purses.

Offtrack average daily handle on its races dropped after Oaklawn withheld its signal from some offshore sites whose clients employ high-speed computerized "batch" technology. Offsite handle on Oaklawn's races averaged $3,289,010, down 10 percent from $3,658,306 in 2003.

And average handle from all sources on Oaklawn's live races declined 7 percent, to $4.3 million a day.

Ontrack handle on the track's live races was up, averaging $1,032,937 a card this meet, a 4 percent rise from $990,987 last year.

Gross numbers were up across the board. Oaklawn raced 55 days this year compared with 49 in 2003.

Attendance averaged 12,455 a day, up 4 percent from 11,938 last year.

Officials were expecting offtrack handle to be down closer to 20 percent after a decision was made in January to withhold the track's signal from certain offshore wagering sites whose clients use technology that enables them to place large wagers on a race just before betting closes.

"Looking at our key ontrack numbers, this was one of our best years since the 1990's," said Eric Jackson, general manager of Oaklawn. "This is the biggest attendance we've had since the 1990's. It was also the most wagered on Oaklawn at Oaklawn, and the most wagered on import races since the 1990's."

Oaklawn handled $350,748 a day on incoming simulcasts.

Purses for the meet averaged a record $240,874 a day. At least $1 million for purses was derived from Instant Racing, a parimutuel game that plays like a slot machine. Oaklawn averaged about $300,000 a day in handle on the game this meet. Last year, the track averaged $229,189 a day on Instant Racing.

Cole Norman won his fourth consecutive training title with 56 wins from 205 starters. His stable earned $818,742. Bob Holthus led the trainers in stable earnings, with $866,538.

John McKee, regular rider for Holthus, was the meet's leading jockey with 71 wins from 384 mounts. His mount earnings of $1,644,028 was also tops among all riders at Oaklawn.

The leading owner was Hwy. 1 Racing Stable with 12 wins.

The undefeated Smarty Jones won the $1 million Arkansas Derby before a crowd of 62,264 on Saturday, and will go into the Kentucky Derby shooting for a $5 million bonus from Oaklawn. The bonus rewards the horse who can win the Rebel, Arkansas Derby and Kentucky Derby

* A $1 million mystery mutuel voucher, one of many mystery vouchers mailed nationwide, was sent to an address in the Oaklawn market, but it went unredeemed on Saturday, according to officials with the National Thoroughbred Racing Association.