They’re at the halfway point of their inaugural fall season of harness racing, and Bangor Raceway officials are hoping for a strong finish.
“It’s kind of early to make any determination on what the fall handle numbers mean, but the fact that we’re having them at all is a good thing in itself, especially for the horsemen,” said Fred Nichols, Bangor Raceway’s director of racing.
The primary numbers, since Bangor Raceway doesn’t have a turnstile system to keep track of attendance, is total handle (amount of money bet).
Six dates into the 11-date fall schedule, Bangor’s highest handle has been $44,113 on Oct. 15, the first Sunday of fall racing. The lowest was Tuesday, a rainy night in which only eight races were run and $14,770 was bet. The average handle through the fall so far is $26,000.
“We don’t have any numbers to compare these to at this time of the season in past years because we’ve never done it before, but I’m pretty encouraged with the way things have gone,” Nichols said. “The first two days were above the average of our summer dates, but then the rainy weather started setting in and we’re a little under summer’s average, but it seems to be pretty close to our spring average.”
Horsemen are encouraged, but Maine Harness Horsemen’s Association president Butch MacKenzie says there are still several improvements that can be made.
“It’s lengthening our season, which is what we’ve been asking for all along. Coming back in the fall gives us more opportunity to race and it helps the horsemen in southern Maine, too, because it opens things up for them more [at Scarborough Downs] with less of us coming down there,” MacKenzie said. “And the horse supply has been good, but the top classes sometimes having just five horses is disappointing. We’d like to see more in the races.”
MacKenzie pointed to races like the 10th on Friday night, an open race for the faster horses in which only five horses were in the field.
There’s a good reason for that, according to Nichols.
“You have to go with what’s available and only five put in for that race,” said Nichols. “I’d like to have a little more, but you don’t want to put another horse in there that’s not really capable of competing with the rest of the field either.”
Through Tuesday, Bangor’s total handle for the season was $1.22 million.
“That means we’ll be easily over 1.3 million and that’s against $900,000 last year,” said Nichols. “The average through the summer [$32,573] was up over previous years.”
Those figures have encouraged raceway officials to request 10 more race dates next year from the Maine State Harness Racing Commission.
Bangor’s fall racing season continues through Nov. 5 on Fridays, Sundays, and Tuesdays.
Andrew Neff can be reached at 990-8205, 1-800-310-8600 or at firstname.lastname@example.org