07/10/2005 11:00PM

Ontrack increases offset handle declines elsewhere

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Crowds like this on Oaks Day helped attendance climb 15 percent.

LOUISVILLE, Ky. - Ontrack gains were offset by a slight decline in offtrack business as all-sources wagering remained static at the 52-day Churchill Downs spring meet that ended Sunday.

Daily wagering from all sources averaged $11,253,795, a number that was remarkably close to the $11,252,299 average from the corresponding 2004 meet. Churchill was holding its first meet since its $121 million renovation was completed, leading to a double-digit percent increase in ontrack wagering, but that number was negated by the slight decrease in offtrack wagering.

Average attendance and ontrack handle were 13,813 and $1,845,704, respectively. Those figures were up 15 and 12 percent. Offtrack wagering, however, averaged $9,408,091, a decrease of 2 percent.

Gross all-source wagering exceeded $585 million, with $489 million of that total being bet offtrack. Total attendance was 718,270, while gross handle ontrack was nearly $96 million.

Field size averaged 8.26 horses per race, down from 8.48 at the 2004 spring meet and 8.88 in 2003. One of the contributing factors to the decrease may have been a three-week span during which about 90 horses were ineligible to run because of an outbreak of equine herpes virus that forced them into quarantine.

Per-day purses grossed more than $25 million for an average of $483,940, up 5 percent from last year.

Churchill president Steve Sexton said officials were satisfied with the overall results at the meet while expressing concern about continued competitive pressure from neighboring casinos and the increase in competition for horses from other racing states.

Casino competition, said Sexton, "continues to grow and mature," while field size "looms as a long-term competitive concern."

On the racetrack, the respective leaders in the owner, trainer, and jockey categories were Billy Hays, Dale Romans, and Rafael Bejarano.

The owner title was the first for Hays, a 47-year-old Louisville car dealer whose top previous feat in racing was as leading owner at River Downs. Hays was represented by 19 winners, one more than Ken and Sarah Ramsey.

Romans, who sent out 36 winners, won or tied for the spring meet title for the fifth time in six years. Romans enjoyed a sensational meet despite many of his horses having been sidelined in the weeks leading up to the meet because of quarantine restrictions from an outbreak of strangles, a contagious disease.

Bejarano, who rode 64 winners, became the first jockey besides Pat Day to win back-to-back spring meets since Julio Espinoza won three straight titles from 1978 to 1980. Robby Albarado was second to Bejarano with 51 wins and a close second in earnings ($2.8 million) to Mike Smith, whose $2.88 million total included a win in the May 7 Kentucky Derby aboard 50-1 shot Giacomo.

Ellen's Foxy Girl, a 3-year-old filly trained by Greg Foley, was the only horse to win as many as four races at the meet, going unbeaten in four tries.