Prairie Meadows Handle Plummets Nearly 15%

By Dan Johnson

Prairie Meadows' 52-day meet, which ended June 28, saw betting drop 14.7% from its 2002 level.

The Thoroughbred-only meet saw the track struggle to fill races early. With fewer races - it ran more 10-race programs in 2002 - and smaller fields came less betting. Average daily wagering was $660,711, compared to $774,863 in 2002. On-track betting averaged $72,999, a 10% drop.

One change being talked about for next year is utting the standard racing week from five days to four, while offering more races per day. Though purses are set at $15 million a year through 2005, the schedule is not.

"It appears that five days a week is a little heavy," Prairie Meadows general manager Bob Farinella said. "I think that's the general consensus among the horsemen, and certainly among the operations team here at Prairie Meadows."

Prairie Meadows draws good crowds on Fridays and Saturdays. It often draws $1 million in betting from simulcast outlets on Monday and Tuesday afternoons. It has never found a fifth day that was in demand with either the local or
simulcasting crowds.

"I definitely want to go to four days instead of five days," said Maggi Moss, a horse owner and member of Prairie Meadows' board of directors. "I would rather have more quality racing, even if it means less days. We have to re-evaluate, we really do."

The Thoroughbred-only season is followed by a 48-day combined Thoroughbred and Quarter Horse meet that runs July 4 to Sept. 13. While Moss said she likes having two meets, Farinella said the two-meet format will also be open for debate.

"I think there are a number of variables that will come into the mix," Farinella said. "Do we continue to run the two meets with the same configuration, or do we have a modification of that?"

One further factor is that past spring meets ended with a stakes festival featuring Prairie Meadows' biggest races. This year, those races were spread out over four weekends that extend into the second meet. The Iowa Oaks and Iowa Derby will be run July 4 and 5, with the Iowa Distaff and Prairie Meadows Cornhusker Breeders' Cup following on July 11 and 12.