Despite an increase in the number of runners per race, a powerful lure to horseplayers, the average total daily handle at the recent Pimlico summer race meet declined 10.3 percent with betting on live racing dropping 5.5 percent, the Maryland Jockey Club reported yesterday.

With six fewer live racing dates during the summer meet than last year, the live handle sank from $6.2 million in 22 days at Laurel Park last summer to $4.2 million in 16 days of live racing at Pimlico.

Laurel is currently closed for a $16 million renovation of the turf and dirt courses.

"You can't take a 16-day meet and look at numbers," said MJC Chief Operating Officer Lou Raffetto Jr. "You have to look at the whole package. You're comparing against Laurel, which is where we were this time last year. Pimlico in the spring, from mid-April to [the Belmont Stakes] is a good time. With the proper purse money, it should be our Saratoga meet."

The Pimlico summer meet, which ran from July 31 to Aug. 27, including simulcast days, saw total wagering dip to $52.3 million, a 23.2 percent drop from the prior year. The track, however, offered 142 live races as opposed to 192 in the same time period in 2003. Field sizes increased from 7.90 runners in 2003 to 8.35 in this year's summer meet.

Wagering on out-of-state tracks dropped 13 percent to $31.2 million.

-- John Scheinman