05/21/2006 11:00PM

Record crowd; handle dips


Wagering and television ratings for the Preakness Stakes on Saturday were generally down compared with last year's record results, even as a record crowd packed Pimlico Race Course on Saturday.

Ideal weather conditions - sunny skies and the temperature in the mid-70's - drew 118,402 people to Pimlico for the Preakness and the other 12 races on Saturday's card. The crowd broke the previous record, set last year, of 115,318. It was the third straight year that Pimlico has reported an attendance figure that broke a record.

Handle on the Preakness itself was $56,394,560, down 7.3 percent from last year's record but still the race's third-highest betting figure of all time. Handle this year was depressed by a short field - nine horses - and short odds on the favorite, Barbaro, who was 1-2 before being pulled up with a catastrophic injury to his right hind ankle shortly after the starting gates opened.

Last year, Afleet Alex won the Preakness as the tepid 3.30-1 favorite over 13 rivals. Handle on the race was $60,861,090, easily the record for the race.

Handle on the 13-race card at Pimlico on Saturday was $87,544,368, down 0.6 percent compared with last year's record of $88,083,366. Despite the tiny difference between the handle this year and the record last year, the total is actually the third-highest handle figure for a Preakness card. In 2004, betting on the Preakness card was $87,858,878.

The overnight television rating for the broadcast on NBC was a 5.7, down 3.5 percent from last year's overnight rating of 5.9. Last year's ratings were a precipitous decline from 2004, when Smarty Jones, perhaps the most popular horse in the last decade, garnered a 7.2 overnight rating for the race. Each overnight rating point equals approximately 667,000 households.

Share for the broadcast was 14, equal to last year's. The share measures the percentage of televisions in use that are tuned to a specific broadcast. Final rating and share will be released on Thursday.