Fair Grounds Concludes Successful Meet Under New Ownership

Edited from track reports
Fair Grounds Race Course concluded its 133rd season of racing, and its first under the ownership of Churchill Downs Inc. Sunday with its first increases in average all-sources and on-track wagering in four years.

During the 82-day meet, a total of $343.1 million, or an average of $4.18 million per day, was wagered on Fair Grounds races, versus a total of $317.1 million wagered during the 80-day meet in 2003-04. That represented a 5.6% increase over last year's average of $3.97 million. On-track wagering totaled $18.1 million, or $221,481 per day, 2.5% above last year's average of $216,082. Total on-track wagering in 2003-04 was $17.3 million. Wagers made on track through Fair Grounds advance deposit accounts are not included in on-track handle numbers.

The average daily attendance of 2,104 was 4.4% below last year's average of 2,202. According to the track, the decline was attributed to a policy change that allowed children under 12 to be admitted free and not included in the attendance count, and three additional weekdays on the schedule and a 7% drop in weekday attendance. Attendance at Fair Grounds' 10 owned and operated off-track betting facilities in southeast Louisiana increased 2.8% to 1,472 per day.

"This has been a very satisfying season," general manager Randall Soth said. "With the sale (to Churchill Downs) not being completed until six weeks before opening day, we had to go on the fast track to complete the preparations, but our staff stepped up to allow for a smooth transition and make sure this season was a success. The changes to our schedule to create the major event days generated a buzz around the facility from both employees and patrons alike, and the numbers showed that both locally and at simulcast facilities, the events were well received."

Total purse distribution was $21.9 million, an average of $267,784 per day, for an increase of 3.2% over last year's $259,641 average. Last season's total purse distribution was $20.7 million. Fair Grounds increased overnight purses by 12% for the final 12 days of the meet. The average field size of 8.32 was up 0.5% over last season's 8.28 average and was the highest in four seasons.

"We are very encouraged by the results of Fair Grounds' first race meet under CDI management," said Andrew G. Skehan, CDI's executive vice president and chief operating officer, "and we look forward to additional opportunities for growth once our new alternative gaming facility comes online. Revenues generated by an on-track slots facility will help us grow Fair Grounds' purse program, attract more horses to compete here, and make Fair Grounds racing an even more attractive product in the important simulcast market."

On the track, jockey Robby Albarado won 101 races for his sixth Fair Grounds riding title in eight years. Albarado, who also tied his record for stakes wins set last year with 13, reached the 100-win mark for the seventh time.

Steve Asmussen won 67 races to capture his fifth consecutive Fair Grounds trainers' title, the longest such streak since Jack Van Berg won the first six of his record 10 Fair Grounds training titles from 1966-71. Asmussen, who had a national record 555 wins in 2004, again leads the nation this year with 131.

Michael Gill won his first Fair Grounds owner's title with 43 victories, the most since the track began keeping owner statistics in 1991-92. Like Asmussen, Gill led the nation's owners in wins last year with 487 and is atop the list again in 2005 with 111.