08/12/2003 12:00AM

Rain dilutes Saratoga handle

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SARATOGA SPRINGS, N.Y. - Business declined for the first half of the Saratoga meeting, according to figures released by the New York Racing Association at the conclusion of Monday's card.

For the first 18 days of the 36-day meet, ontrack handle dipped 7 percent, to $52,780,252 from last year's $56,799,133. Total handle declined by 8.4 percent to $257,449,880, compared with $281,079,370 in 2002.

The declines were no doubt at least in part caused by the rainy weather that has plagued the meeting, which began on July 23 and concludes on Sept. 1. Twenty-one of the 44 scheduled turf races had to be switched to the main track because of soggy course conditions.

On Sunday, a 2-year-old dirt race for maidens was canceled after an intense rainstorm left the track surface uneven around the far turn. The remainder of the card was run after a one-hour delay. Wagering on one of the pick threes involving the canceled race had to be refunded.

Attendance for the first half of the meet is about even with last year, but this year's numbers include an announced crowd of 30,500 on the second day of the meet, which featured a Edgar Prado bobblehead doll giveaway. On the second day of last year's meet, with no giveaway, the crowd was 13,358. Ontrack attendance through Monday was 513,025, compared with 514,157 for the same number of days in 2002.

Total attendance at Belmont Park for the simulcast of Saratoga's races was 40,472, a 27 percent decrease from last year, when simulcasting was held at Aqueduct.