Atlantic City Meet Continues in Growth Mode

Attendance continued to grow, according to officials at the New Jersey track.

Atlantic City Race Course wrapped up its six-day turf meet with large crowds and what was said to be the largest crowd at the New Jersey track in 25 years.

The track no longer uses turnstiles, but attendance for April 29, a Sunday, was reported at 11,050. Average daily attendance for the six days was 5,698, according to daily figures provided by the track, up from 5,374 for six days in 2011.

Thirty-eight races were held during the meet, with average field size of 10.08 horses per race, up from 9.87 last year, according to The Jockey Club Information Systems. Purses averaged $133,658 per day, up slightly from $132,550 in 2011, according to TJCIS.

The highest live ontrack pari-mutuel handle figure for the meet came April 29 at $179,476. The biggest export days came on the last two days of the meet: $651,553 was wagered on May 2 and $579,960 on May 3.

Total live handle for the meet was about $3.5 million, for an average of about $583,000.

Sal Sinatra, racing secretary for both Parx Racing and ACRC, which are owned by Greenwood Racing, said he looks forward to the Atlantic City meet each year, and that he was encouraged to see the big crowds.

“I love coming down here,” Sinatra said. “It’s good to come back and see the people. It’s the people who make it special.”

“What our attendance is proving is that South Jersey loves its horse racing,” ACRC president Maureen Gallagher Bugdon said. “Since 2000, we’ve gradually grown each year, and I think we’ve gotten the attention and support of many legislators in South Jersey.”

Atlantic City management is hoping its current popularity will go a long way toward helping propel a bill in the New Jersey General Assembly to pass later this year. The bill, which already has been approved by the Senate, would give the track a percentage of the Casino Simulcasting Special Fund, or revenue from Atlantic City casino race books, of which a portion would be used for capital improvements and to help finance additional racing dates in the future.

This season, the track welcomed back former announcer Larry Lederman for the six-day stand. Lederman, who called the action from 1985-2001, was diagnosed with a brain tumor last year and has been undergoing chemotherapy treatments.

He was asked by management whether he would want to try and call the 2012 meet, and he agreed.

“They said, ‘This is where you started, do you want to come back?’ ” Lederman said. “So far, I’ve felt pretty good, though I do get exhausted by the last race.”

Lederman, who had been the announcer at harness track Freehold Raceway before his illness, was selected for the W.R. Haughton Good Guy Award by balloting of the membership of the United States Harness Writers Association earlier this year.

Among the improvements made to the grandstand this year were a new bar in the simulcast room off of the paddock, and the transformation of a former bar inside the grandstand into a “simulcast area” with a bank of televisions.

Meadowlands will host two four-race cards of turf racing May 4-5 before the Monmouth Park meet begins May 12.