The spring meet at Churchill Downs, the first race meet since the completion of its ambitious $121 million renovation, ended its 52-day run on Sunday with double-digit gains in on-track attendance and wagering and a slight decline in off-track betting.On-track wagering and attendance, both of which declined in a 53-day meet in 2004 that was hindered by construction of the track's new clubhouse, rebounded strongly in this year's session. On-track wagering for this year's 52-day meet totaled $95,976,633, an increase of 10% from last year's total of $87,236,407. An average of $1,845,704 was wagered on-track each day, a rise of 12.1% from the daily average of $1,645,970 in 2004. The spring meet attendance total rose to 718,270, an increase of 13.4% from last year's total of 633,616. The meet's average daily attendance rose to 13,813, a jump of 15.5% from last year's figure of 11,955.While on-track wagering registered healthy increases, off-track betting declined and contributed to a small decrease in daily averages for total wagering during the meet. Off-track wagering on the meet totaled $489,220,707 for the 52-day session in 2005, a decrease of 3.9% from the 53-day total of $509,135,463 in 2004. Average daily off-track wagering in 2005 stood at $9,408,091, a decline of 2.1% from the 2004 average of $9,606,329.
The decline in off-track wagering contributed to a drop in total wagering on Churchill Downs races during the spring session. Total wagering for the meet -- which includes on-track betting and all money wagered at off-track sites and simulcast centers -- stood at $585,197,340 after the meet's 52 days. That reflected a decrease of 1.9% from the 53-day total of $596,371,870 for 2004. The daily average for total betting in the just-completed meet stood at $11,253,795, which reflected a small increase of .01% from the 2004 average of $11,252,299.
Among the factors that contributed to the declines in off-track and total wagering was a drop in the average number of betting interests per race during the spring meet. Races during the 2005 session average 8.26 starters per race, a slight decline from the average of 8.48 betting interests that competed in the Spring Meet of 2004 and a sharper drop from the average of 8.88 wagering interests in the 2003 spring racing session.This year's decline occurred as competition for horses intensified with racetracks in racing states that offer race purses supplemented by revenues from slot machines and other alternative gaming. Field sizes at Churchill Downs also felt the impact of quarantines ordered by the Kentucky Department of Agriculture.
"Churchill Downs' first racing meet in its completely renovated facility will be memorable for many things, but mostly for the smiles on the faces of patrons who enjoyed our new facilities and the top level guest service provided in our new racetrack," said Steve Sexton, president of Churchill Downs. "We are excited about the public response to our new amenities and improved service, and we deeply appreciate the efforts of our Churchill Downs team, which worked non-stop for weeks to get the track ready for its public unveiling during Kentucky Derby Week and maintained that high level of performance throughout the meet."Although the meet's on-track results were encouraging and gratifying, they could have been even better if not for the increasing competitive pressures from a continued expansion of gambling in our market and throughout the region," continued Sexton. "Casino competition, present in our market since late 1998, continues to grow and mature. And our daily racing program faces increasing pressure from competition for horses from states such as West Virginia, which has sent its race purses boosted significantly from revenues from expanded gambling and slot machines. More racetracks in racing states such as New York and Pennsylvania will boost their purses and improve their racing product through slot revenues in the coming months. Those developments will only intensify the competition for horses, so the size of our race fields looms as a long-term competitive concern."Race purses for the 2005 spring meet rose slightly from the year before. Purses paid during the meet totaled $25,164,885, an increase of 2.9% over the 2004 total of $24,463,392. Daily purses averaged $483,940 -- an increase of 4.9%% from last year's average of $461,573. Jockey Rafael Bejarano earned his second consecutive spring meet title as the 23-year-old Peruvian collected 64 wins to finish well ahead of runner-up Robby Albarado, who won 51 races. Jordan Charkoudian finished with seven wins and was both the leading apprentice and leading female jockey in the meet.The title of leading trainer went to Louisville native Dale Romans, who earned his fifth title in six years. Romans, who started slowly as his stable rebounded from the strangles quarantines in Kentucky and Florida, ended up with a runaway victory as his stable collected 36 victories.
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