Woodbine Registers First Drop in Handle in Three Years

After three straight years of gain in handle, due in part to the addition of slot machines in 2000, Woodbine reported a 4.5% drop in handle at its 2003 meet. The Ontario oval ended its 162-day meet on Nov. 30. The track opens for live Standardbred racing tomorrow.

This year's all-source handle from 162 live racing days was $347,433,595 (Canadian), compared with $363,780,210 (Canadian) for the 166-day meet in 2002. That shows a 2% drop in average daily handle from 2002, going from $2,191,447 to $2,144,652. The track is required to schedule 167 days of racing, but days lost due to weather or other circumstances are not required to be rescheduled. This year Woodbine lost five days of racing to cancellation.

One thing that didn't change was the average field size. It hovered right around 8.1 starters per race in both 2002 and 2002.

"We're in a very competitive gaming marketplace," said Hugh Mitchell, senior vice-president of racing for Woodbine Entertainment Group, which owns Woodbine. "Frankly, we have to continue to improve our Thoroughbred racing product to secure our position as a major supplier of quality Thoroughbred racing product across North America. Going forward, our focus will be pushing distribution of the product, while trying to maximize both field size and pool size."

Purses paid in 2003 totalled $89.3 million, virtually unchanged from $89.7 million paid out last year.

Todd Kabel won his fourth Woodbine riding title with 160 wins. He also topped the 1992, 1995 and 2001 meets. He also became the first jockey to eclipse the $11 million mark in purse earnings. Patrick Husbands was second with 158 wins, while Emile Ramsammy tallied 123 wins.

Robert Tiller won his third Woodbine training title (also captured the 1997 and 2001 titles), saddling 72 winners, six more than Scott Fairlie's 66. Abraham Katryan was third with 57 wins. Tiller also won the earnings title with over $4 million in purses.

Stronach Stables collected their second consecutive owners' title, earning near $4.7 million in purses during the 2003 meet. The stable also had the most wins at Woodbine with 70. Sam-Son Farm was second with over $3.1 million and Gus Schickedanz was third with over $2.8 million.