08/14/2006 12:00AM

Saratoga numbers recover


Despite a subpar opening week and the cancellation of the first card of the second week because of extreme heat, attendance and handle figures for the first half of the Saratoga meet compare favorably with last year.

Average daily attendance for the first 17 days of the meet was 28,258, down just 1.5 percent from the first 18 days of 2005, when average attendance was 28,696. Average daily ontrack wagering, which was down 10 percent after the opening week, is roughly even with 2005. This year's average is $3,244,077, compared with $3,266,156 last year. Saratoga has run six fewer races at this point this year than last year.

Overall wagering on Saratoga races is up 4.1 percent from $14,786,005 daily in 2005 to $15,397,635 this year. Overall handle was down 2.5 percent after the opening week.

"I don't know what was going on in the first week," said Bill Nader, NYRA's chief operating officer. "I thought it was a weakness in the local economy and the price of gasoline. I didn't blame the decline in week 1 on weather. I didn't think it was a valid excuse, even though we had rain on some days early in the card. The stretch of weather shortly after the cancellation is as good as I've ever seen it up here."

Through the first half of 2005, Saratoga lost only one turf race, compared with eight through the first half of this meet. Field size is up slightly at this meet.