09/07/2009 12:00AM

Saratoga does better than NYRA expected


SARATOGA SPRINGS, N.Y. Despite running more races with more betting interests this year, handle and attendance for the 2009 Saratoga meet suffered slight declines compared with last year.

Attendance was down 2.1 percent, ontrack handle slipped 2.2 percent, and all-sources handle was down just 1.7 percent from 2008. New York Racing Association officials were happy with the meet, considering racing has suffered double-digit declines in handle nationwide recently. New York Racing Association president and chief executive officer Charles Hayward went into the meet expecting 5 to 7 percent declines in handle.

"Look at the tracks that are struggling around the country and the general state of racing," Hayward said. "I think that Saratoga has been what Saratoga has always been -- the brightest spot in all of Thoroughbred racing."

Attendance for the 2009 meet was 854,413, down from 872,627 in 2008. The daily average was 23,734 compared with 24,240 in 2008. There was one less giveaway day this year.

Ontrack handle at Saratoga was $112,005,880, down from $114,563,754 in 2008. The daily average was $3,111,274 compared with $3,187,327. All-sources handle, which includes money bet on Saratoga from simulcast outlets, was $513,837,237, down from $522,530,643. The daily average was $14,273,247 compared with $14,514,740 last year.

There were six more races (365 to 359) and 139 more betting interests in 2009 than in 2008. NYRA ran a record 164 turf races with only 29 races taken off the turf.

"Clearly even with some positive numbers in entries and races we were far outperforming what we realistically could have expected," said Hayward, noting that NYRA lost out on approximately $300,000 a day in offtrack handle from Southern California due to the fact Del Mar was closed on Mondays, a racing day for Saratoga.

NYRA took a hit on Travers Day as rainy weather kept the crowd to 34,221, the lowest in 30 years and down 16 percent from last year s 40,723. Total handle on Travers Day was down 18 percent as well.

However, the presence of Rachel Alexandra in the Woodward gave a huge boost for the final Saturday. The crowd of 31,171 was up 38 percent from last year while total handle was up 15 percent from $22,611,794 to $26,045,739.