When Ron Crockett, Emerald Downs founder and president, walked out the door after Sunday’s final day of racing this year, he felt positive.

And why not?

In a year where he had projected decreases at his racetrack, everything was up: attendance, purses, the amount of money being wagered and, maybe most significantly, the number of horses per race.

“All in all, it was a very good meet,” Crockett said.

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Although Emerald Downs doesn’t release attendance, Crockett said it was up 7.9 percent. The average daily handle on Emerald Downs races was $773,418, up 4.5 percent, and the average daily handle on all races, including simulcasts, was $1,178,051, up 2.4 percent.

Meanwhile, the average daily purses were up 11 percent to $95,148 from $85,643, and the number of horses per race increased from an average of 6.36 to 6.7.

“When we started the year, I projected we would be down about 5 percent in handle,” Crockett said. “On Emerald races, we were nearly 10 percent better than that.”

Another great sign locally was the huge increase in prices at the annual Washington Thoroughbred Breeders & Owners Association Yearling Sale in late August. The average price of $15,546 was up 32 percent and was the highest average since 2005. The median price of $9,500 was up 90 percent.

“It was a pleasant surprise,” said WTBOA President Dana Halvorson, who said the increase in the Washington sales mirrored increases that he saw in Kentucky and British Columbia. “It was definitely encouraging.”

The increase is all about supply and demand, Halvorson said. The number of foals in North America each year has been diminishing, down to 23,500 in 2012, according to The Jockey Club, after reaching a high of 37,493 in 2007. The hope in the industry is that the increase in sales prices will lead to an increase in breeding.

Because while the number of horses at Emerald Downs increased for the first time in years, it was still the second-lowest in track history, and that was with a record-low 75 racing dates.

“Absolutely,” Crockett said, when asked if the horse population was his biggest concern. “That, and maintaining our purses.”

But this season ends with great hope. Contrast that to a year ago when Crockett was lamenting “the horse-shortage problem” after decreasing handle at his track, and the WTBOA had just finished a sale that Halvorson called awful.

Crockett said this also made him optimistic: When looking at a list of horse owners at Emerald Downs, there were a lot of names he didn’t recognize because they are new to the sport.

“Three or four years ago, I could recognize every name,” Crockett said. “We are getting new people into the sport, which is very positive.”

Horses were also being claimed more often, up about 25 percent through August.

And the people came to watch, with the place filling up on most summer weekends.

“They do a great job getting people there, and they make it a great place for families,” Halvorson said. “They had better attendance at Emerald than they did at Hollywood Park (in Inglewood, Calif.). That’s a real credit to Ron Crockett and the rest of the people there.”

There they go — up
Emerald Downs saw an increase in the handle on all races (including simulcasts) and the handle on just the races at Emerald Downs. A look at the past five seasons:
Year All races EmD races
2013 $1,178,051 $773,418
2012 $1,150,451 $740,310
2011 $1,171,731 $765,505
2010 $1,185,078 $764,924
2009 $1,277,313 $841,043

Scott Hanson: 206-464-2943