Bay Meadows Weathers Wet Winter Meet

In spite of consistently nasty weather, Bay Meadows concluded its 2005-06 holiday meeting Feb. 5, with significant on-track gains in attendance and handle averages over last season's comparable figures. A 5.2% dip in wagering outside of Northern California, however, contributed to a 1.5% decline in overall handle.

Bay Meadows took over the meeting - 31 days in length this year - in a swap of dates with Golden Gate Fields. The comparative dates include racing days conducted at both Bay Meadows and Golden Gate during the time period one year ago.

Bernie Thurman, Bay Meadows Racing Association's general manager for operations, said the meeting started strongly in conjunction with Santa Anita Park's opening Dec. 26, but slowed under a steady onslaught of rain. The track was rated fast for only nine programs during the San Mateo track's run.

"Every Saturday of the meet, it rained," she said.

Even so, average daily on-track attendance jumped 12% over the comparable dates a year ago, to a modest 2,551. On-track handle average increased by 13.6%, to $660,788 from $581,921 in 2004-05.

Overall, average daily handle generated in Northern California increased by 4% ($2,178,882 compared to $2,095,239). The Northern California total includes handle generated via the three account wagering companies licensed to conduct wagering in California (TVG, YouBet, and XpressBet). ADW on Bay Meadows, which is carried on both TVG and Magna Entertainment's HRTV, increased by 31.3%.

But the daily average for wagering outside Northern California showed a decrease ($2,941,910 compared to $3,101,922), as did all-source daily commingled handle, which fell 1.5% from an average of $5,197,161 to $5,150,792.

Thurman said small fields were to blame for the dip. Bay Meadows races averaged an anemic 6.71 horses, almost identical to last year's average of 6.69. A soft turf course for much of the meet contributed to the low number of starters.

She said simulcast wagering on Bay Meadows in Southern California and Nevada was static but was off in Florida and Illinois.

"Florida was understandable with the post-hurricane period and simulcasting problems from the tracks there," Thurman said. "I'm not sure what was going on in Illinois."

Racing at Bay Meadows, which is under imminent threat of redevelopment in the next two years, resumes May 10 for another brief meeting that ends June 18. Thurman says she expects business to improve significantly with better weather.

"We're all sort of hopeful," Thurman said of the track's future. "We're continuing to work hard to keep it going."