09/27/2016 8:37PM

Strong second half boosts Arlington meet business


Arlington concluded its 2016 racing season Sept. 23 with a drop in all-sources average daily handle of 2 percent from last year - decent for a track that at mid-meet had seen handle fall enough to cut purses.

Purses were dropped the second week of July, at which point all-sources average daily handle was down 13 percent compared to a similar point in the 2015 season. But by meet end the all-sources average daily handle had gained ground, with a final decline of from $1,828,027 to $1,790,933. Average daily out-of-state handle had fallen 18 percent at mid-meet, but also ended only 2 percent down from last year.  

An Arlington Million card that handled $14.7 million, up 50 percent from 2015, helped drive the late season push, but general manager Tony Petrillo said the Million wasn’t the only piece of positive news during August and September.

“When you look around at the general trends, with handle trending down, it was actually a pretty successful meet,” Petrillo said.

The bar in Chicago, however, has been set low. Purses here are not subsidized by casino revenue, generated only by betting handle, and according to the Illinois Thoroughbred Horsemen’s Association they averaged a little less than $130,000 a day. Besides the across-the-board purse cut in July, Arlington lowered several stakes purses and eliminated some stakes early in the meet. Arlington had hoped to pay purses averaging about $175,000 per day, it said before the 2016 meet began.

Arlington raced 74 days this year, down three from 2015, and ran 591 races, compared to 624 last year. Gross handle for the meet was off 5.8 percent, to $132,533,482, but average handle per race fell only a half-percent, from $225,574 last year to $224,253. Surely the drop would have been steeper had Arlington not managed to raise its average starters per race from 7.18 last season to 7.49 this year. Arlington ran mainly eight-race cards on three- and four-day race weeks during the season.

Despite running fewer races overall, Arlington hosted more turf races this year than last, 250 compared to 221. Races on Polytrack averaged only 7.07 starters per race, though that, too, was up from 2015’s paltry 6.81.

Favorites won at a 36 percent rate during the meet, and many of those favorites were ridden by Jose Valdivia Jr., who was leading jockey by wins (100), win-percentage (24 percent), and purses ($1.91 million). It was the second straight Arlington riding title for Valdivia, who revived his flagging career when he shifted his tack to Chicago in spring 2015. Mitchell Murill rode 76 winners, the meet’s second-highest total, and Carlos Marquez Jr. had 71 winners while riding nearly 100 fewer races than Murrill.

Larry Rivelli won his third straight training title by sending out 58 winners, 11 more than runner-up Mike Stidham, whose $1.09 million in stable earnings was tops at the meet. Louie Roussel led the top 10 in win percentage (31 percent) and $2 win return on investment ($2.48).

Vincent Foglia’s Patricia’s Hope LLC was the leading owner at the meet by wins with 29, nine more than runner-up William Stiritz.