09/01/2008 12:00AM

Spa reports drop in business


Hampered by inclement weather for the first three weeks, Saratoga's 36-day meet suffered declines in attendance and handle.

Attendance was down 8.5 percent while ontrack handle declined 6.8 percent and all-sources handle declined 10.3 percent compared with 2007.

Admission was free on Monday, closing day, and New York Racing Association officials announced a crowd of 28,578. That brought the total attendance to 876,627, down from last year's total of 958,574.

Total ontrack handle was $114,563,752, down from $123,018,042 in 2007. Total all-sources handle was $522,438,131, down from 582,656,105 in 2007.

Though glorious weather the second half of the meet helped prevent more severe deficits, Saratoga could not fully recover from the opening three weeks, which were inundated by rain. There were 35 races taken off the turf this year, compared with six last year. Saratoga conducted 141 turf races in 2008, compared with 164 in 2007.

Even after Saratoga had to cancel the final eight races of the Aug. 8 card, there were 359 races run at this meet, compared with 347 in 2007.

"We substantially cut into the declines that we experienced the first three weeks," said Charles Hayward, NYRA's president and chief executive officer. "Our ontrack handle has been stronger than our simulcast handle. Certain markets - Vegas, Florida - continue to really struggle. We're obviously going to get hurt in Louisiana this weekend, but overall I think we're holding our own or doing better than any other race meet in the country right now."

Hayward pointed to the close finishes and stirring stretch drives in the Alabama, Personal Ensign, and Travers as the highlights of the meet, along with Commentator winning the Whitney at age 7.

Hayward said that Breeders' Cup officials have told him that Saratoga will not be included in the Win and You're In promotion next year, which may result in a tinkering of the stakes schedule. This year, there was no graded stakes on Saturday, Aug. 9, only a handful of overnight stakes.