11/03/2005 1:00AM

Total handle up despite ontrack slide


FORT ERIE, Ontario - The 104-day Fort Erie meet ended Tuesday with a gain in total handle despite a decrease in ontrack handle.

The total all-sources average daily handle of $913,998 was an increase of 11 percent from last year's average of $824,084 per day during a shortened 81-day meet.

Betting offtrack increased 18 percent, to $791,021 from $670,694 per day in 2004, primarily because the Fort Erie signal was taken this year in California and by New York City OTB. Ontrack wagering declined to $122,977, a 20 percent drop from $153,390 per day in 2004.

Fort Erie's director of operations, Herb McGirr Sr., said he was happy about the way the season went.

"Eighty-seven percent of wagering is done offtrack now, and that continues to grow," said McGirr. "Ontrack is going to steadily decline, but we're up overall. There are very few racetracks in North America on the plus side of the ledger."

Business at the adjoining slot-machine operation at the track fell some 15 percent for the second successive year, affecting purse distribution. Revenue from the slots has been the major source of purse money.

The proliferation of slots in Fort Erie's market area of Niagara Falls to Buffalo has taken a toll. Last year, in an abbreviated season, the daily purse distribution was $181,186. At this meet it was $125,698.

On the racing side, Chad Beckon was the leading rider, bagging 100 wins, 15 more than the runner-up, Neil Poznansky, who was last year's top rider. Ninety-four of Beckon's wins came before he lost his apprentice weight allowance on Oct. 20.

Nick Gonzalez was the leading trainer with 56 wins. In second was Lyle Morden with 39.

The owner title, with 38 wins, went to the Stronach Racing Stable. Next in line was H.W. Chambers with 20.