Monmouth Park closed out its 2006 racing season Sept. 24 with declines in handle and attendance while paying the highest purses in track history.Monmouth lost four racing dates during the season, whittling its 91-day program to 87, including make-up dates. On-track daily handle on Monmouth races was down 10% with a daily average in 2006 of $580,824. Wagering in the building on both live and simulcast racing declined 6.5% to a daily average of $1,205,411. Total daily handle dropped 1.6% with a daily average of $2,354,237.
Average daily attendance slipped 7.5% from 2005, averaging 8,400 per day.
The on-track declines were due in great part to the expansion of telephone and account wagering in the state. Handle figures that were once incorporated into Monmouth totals are now considered transmission wagering.
Total wagering from all sources averaged $3,549,451, a decline of 2.5% from last year.
Turf racing, always an important factor in total handle, was not conducted for the first six weeks of the 2006 meeting. The new turf course opened June 18.
During the meeting, Monmouth offered its highest purse structure in history. Overnight purses averaged $325,053 per day (an increase of 5.6% over the 2005 figure), and total purses – including stakes races – of $364,678 a day gained 2.5% over last year.
"With on-line and account wagering moving out of its infancy, a decrease in on-track handle was anticipated and expected," said Dennis Dowd, senior vice president racing for the New Jersey Sports & Exposition Authority. "We were pleased to see our total handle off a very slight number as wagering in New Jersey transforms and will continue to transform with the advent of OTBs next year.
"We believe that in the long run, the combination of on-line and account wagering, coupled with OTBs and on-track handle, will lead to overall increases in total handle that will provide benefits across the board to everyone involved.
Dowd cited the new grass course as a major positive of the year.
"We couldn't be more pleased with the new turf course," he said. "All those involved in bringing it to fruition deserve a lot of credit, and their hard work will continue to pay dividends to the Sports Authority for years to come."
Dowd said factors point to a bright outlook in spite of the downturn in business.
"While the numbers may not reflect and air of optimism," he said, "it certainly exists at Monmouth Park. Record purses are always something to smile about, and it continues a five-year trend of offering increased purses annually.
"The Breeders' Cup and its impact are already being felt and as we close this year's season and look forward to 2007, Breeders' Cup Day and beyond, there is a bright future for racing at Monmouth."
Once again, Haskell Day on Aug. 6 was the highlight of the season at Monmouth. The day's crowd of 42,318 was the fifth largest in track history, and the seventh straight year the event has attracted more than 40,000 fans. Bluegrass Cat won the $1 million Haskell (gr. I), giving trainer Todd Pletcher his first victory in the race.
The fourth annual New Jersey Thoroughbred Festival Day was the most successful yet, with a total of $3,971,782 wagered on the day. That was an increase of more than $1 million over the 2005 total of $2,961,900.
Joe Bravo captured his 12th riding crown, his fourth in a row at Monmouth. Trainer Kelly Breen repeated as leading conditioner. Ed Broome was the top owner at the meeting, and Mario Madrid was the leading apprentice.