09/06/2010 7:51PM

Spa's average daily handle dips

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SARATOGA SPRINGS, N.Y. - For the first time since 1882, Saratoga conducted a 40-day meet, and though there were declines in average daily handle and attendance from last year's 36-day season, New York Racing Association officials deemed the expanded meet a success.

Daily average all-sources handle was $13,791,518, down 3.4 percent from last year's daily average of $14,273,257. Daily average on-track handle was $2,867,329, down 7.8 from last year's $3,111,274. Daily average attendance was 21,957, down 7.5 percent from last year's average of 23,734.

"Overall the meet has really been terrific. It certainly has exceeded our expectations on the track as well as the business," said NYRA's president and CEO, Charles Hayward, who felt the 2-year-old racing, the turf racing, and the stakes races were all strong.

"I said coming into the meet that we thought we'd be down four or five percent," Hayward said, "which would be half of what the industry is down."

This was the first expansion of the meet since it went from 34 to 36 days in 1997. Saratoga ran 395 races at this meet, 30 more than last year.

Field size was roughly the same this year as last year. There was an average of 8.39 betting interests at this meet, compared with 8.38 last year. This year's meet, however, benefited from a new rule that uncoupled same trainer/different owner entries. NYRA officials estimated it gained 80 betting interests from that rule, which NYRA equated to roughly an additional $14.4 million in handle.

"I thought we were going to have a tough job at the entry box, a tough job with field size," Hayward said. "Horsemen have really participated. We struggled at Aqueduct and Belmont - we didn't struggle in the same way here."

This year's meet benefited from tremendous weather that enabled Saratoga to run 187 turf races with only 23 taken off the turf. Last year, Saratoga ran 164 turf races, with 29 off the turf.

On the track, trainer Todd Pletcher earned his first Saratoga trainer's title since 2006 - his seventh title here overall - and set a Saratoga record with 36 wins. That included five Grade 1 stakes - the Coaching Club American Oaks, Ruffian, King's Bishop, Woodward, and Spinaway - and 13 stakes in total. Pletcher dominated with his 2-year-olds, winning 18 juvenile races from 50 starters. In 2004, when Pletcher won 35 races, he went 17 for 45 with his 2-year-olds.

"It's been a terrific meet," Pletcher said. "We won some big stakes, and the 2-year-olds ran real well. The 2-year-olds are basically your future. When you have good 2-year-olds, hopefully you get good 3-year-olds."

Pletcher had finished second in the Saratoga standings each of the last three years. Last year, he was second to Linda Rice, who finished second this year with 20 wins.

John Velazquez won his fourth jockey title, first since 2004. He had 57 winners, three more than Javier Castellano

"If you want to really shine, this is the meet to do it," Velazquez said.

Mike Repole won the owner's title with 13 wins.