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Business Strong During First Week at Spa

Saratoga had a successful first week, particularly on track.

The first six days of the Saratoga meet showed strength from a business and racing standpoint, with gains in on-track attendance and pari-mutuel, and total handle.

The New York Racing Association released the weekly numbers Aug. 3 for the racing of July 20-Aug. 3. NYRA does so regularly during Saratoga meets.

NYRA reported attendance up 13.5% and on-track handle up 5% when compared with the same period in 2008. All-sources handle was up 1.1%.

Average attendance went from 20,936 last year to 23,753 this year. (NYRA noted attendance figures for giveaway days include patrons who pay multiple admissions to obtain more than one giveaway item.) On-track handle averaged $3,225,357 for the first six days this year versus $3,071,658 in 2008. Total handle averaged $14,587,773 this year compared with $14,424,521 last year.

There were 523 betting interests this year versus 479 last year during the first six days.

NYRA officials said attendance of 33,953 on Aug. 1—a giveaway day—was one of the largest outside of a Travers Stakes (gr. I) program at Saratoga.

“The 2009 Saratoga meet is off to a very promising start both at the windows and on the track,” NYRA president and chief executive officer Charles Hayward said in a statement. “Despite erratic weather which affects people’s plans, and moving the Whitney Stakes to the second Saturday of the meet, attendance jumped substantially, while on-track handle is positive and all-sources even, significantly ahead of all industry trends.”

The Saratoga numbers aren’t typical of those at many racetracks. Through June 2009, handle on United States racing was down 16.89% from the same period in 2008.

Hampered by rain the first two days of the 2008 meet, attendance was off 25.7%, on-track handle was down 12.6%, and total handle declined 13.7% compared with opening-week figures in 2007, a record year for Saratoga.