With eleven fewer racing days than in 2003, the Maryland Jockey Club announced its total handle declined 4% in 2004. All sources handle totaled $868.1 million as compared to $905.7 million from the same period in 2003. The daily average handle from all sources decreased 2% from $3.48 million to $3.41million. For the fourth consecutive year, the daily average handle on the export signal increased, this time by 4%. The major Maryland tracks raced 197 days in 2004, but only 62 at Laurel Park, which has been closed since mid-June as Magna Entertainment Corp. began a multi-million dollar renovation. Live racing is scheduled to return to Laurel Park on Jan. 22 after a 10-month hiatus.The marquee event of the year, the Preakness Stakes (gr. I), attracted a crowd of 112,668 to Pimlico Race Course, the largest crowd to witness a sporting event in the state. Attendance figures have now topped six figures for four straight years and five of the last six years. All sources handle for racing on Preakness day wagering finished at $87.9 million, surpassing the record of $71.4 million set in 2002. A pool of $59.4 million was bet on the state's signature event. The $4.6 million bet on the Oct.9 Pimlico card was a record for Maryland Million races, while a total of $3.8 million passed through the pari-mutuel windows on the 10-race Fall Festival Of Racing card at Old Hilltop Nov. 20, a day featuring six added-money races, headlined by the De Francis Dash (gr. I). "This has been an up and down year," said Jim Gagliano, executive vice president of Maryland Racing Operations. "The high was clearly the Preakness, which saw a record crowd and handle. However, as we have seen throughout the years, the steady decline of handle has continued, which has forced us to continually search for more efficiencies. We look forward to many successful years of memorable racing on the new Laurel Park surfaces. "The good news is that the amount of wagering on our signal outside of Maryland continues to rise, indicating that the popularity of our live racing product continues to grow in other parts of the country."
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