09/07/2004 11:00PM

Offtrack handle keys gain


FORT ERIE, Ontario - The abbreviated 81-day Fort Erie meet ended Monday with a gain in total daily handle and a decline in ontrack handle. The meet was originally scheduled to end Nov. 22, after 117 racing days, but was shortened to make way for a rebuilding of the dirt track.

The daily average wagering from all sources at the meet was $824,085. That represented a gain of 5.7 percent when compared to the same time frame last year. The boost was the result of an 11.2 percent gain in betting from sites carrying the track's signal. This source made up $670,694 of the daily handle.

The live handle at the track dipped 13 percent, to $153,390.

Purse distribution showed a drop of 6.4 percent to $181,186 daily. A 15 percent purse cut went into effect for the final seven weeks of the meet.

Revenue from the slots operation, which fuels the purses, has declined in double digits from last year, said Herb McGirr Sr., director of operations. The reason for the decline in slots revenue, he said, was the proliferation of slots in Fort Erie's market area of Niagara Falls to Buffalo.

With 71 victories, Neil Poznansky won the jockey crown, dethroning Martin Ramirez, who reigned the past two years. The leading trainer title was taken by Tom Agosti with 27 wins. Ross Armata and Don MacRae finished in a tie for second with 26.

Tied atop of the owners standing, with 18 wins each, were Bruno Schickedanz and Mike Barkowski. It was Schickedanz's eighth consecutive title and the ninth in the past 10 years.

Lucky Tec, a winner of three Fort Erie stakes this meet, was honored as the top sprinter and the track's 2004 horse of the year. Lucky Tec came from the barn of Daryl Ezra, who also trained last year's champion, Ashagio.

Other runners to be honored were Thunder Bull (top male claimer), La Vitesse (top female claimer), Be My Valentine (top female sprinter), Chimo (top male at distance), and Olympic Advice (top female at distance).

Pembroke Hall was selected as the best at the quarter-mile dash distance, and Spectacular Dash, now in the barn of Pat County Jr., was chosen as the best claim of the meet.