While the nation’s Thoroughbred racing industry as a whole slumped last year because of the economic downturn, the New York Racing Association saw only modest business declines.

The all-sources handle on NYRA races from Aqueduct Racetrack, Belmont Park and Saratoga Race Course went from $2,543,796,141 in 2007 to $2,489,276,587 last year, a 2.1 percent decline, while the daily average wagering on NYRA races from all sources fell 3.7 percent, from $10,382,841 to $9,997,095.

Nationwide, wagering on Thoroughbred racing fell 7.2 percent, with declines accelerating in the second half of the year, culminating in a 20.3 percent drop in December. A similar drop-off was seen in other facets of the gaming industry, such as Atlantic City casinos, where gambling revenues fell 7.6 percent in 2008, with an 18.7 percent decline in December alone.

NYRA’s on-track handle totaled $415,220,474 last year, down 3.3 percent from $429,420,826. Daily average on-track handle was $1,667,552, down 4.9 percent from the 2007 average of $1,752,738.

In 2008, 1,735,717 fans attended 249 race days, down 5.7 percent from the 1,841,462 who attended the 245 race days of 2007. Daily average attendance was off 7.2 percent, from 7,516 to 6,971. A significant portion of the attendance decline came during the Saratoga meet, which was hurt by a several weeks of dismal weather along with the effects of a slumping economy.

On the plus side, at a time when purse payouts dropped 1.3 percent nationwide, NYRA’s purses grew by 3.1 percent, from $117,814,278 to $121,414,236, with daily average purses rising 1.4 percent to $487,607, up from $480,875 in 2007. Average betting interests per race nudged upwards last year by 0.2 percent to 7.91.

2008 will also be remembered as the year NYRA emerged from bankruptcy with a 25-year franchise to operate Thoroughbred racing at New York’s three main Thoroughbred tracks.

“Although we were off to a strong start in 2008, the slumping economy caught up with us in the second half of the year,” said NYRA President and CEO Charles Hayward. “However, despite the decline in handle, NYRA outperformed the industry as a whole in 2008. On the track we saw spectacular races throughout the year and I want to thank all the owners, breeders, trainers, jockeys and fans for their participation in the NYRA program.”

Racing highlights of the past year include the 140th running of the Belmont Stakes, when the 94,476 on hand saw the Triple Crown bid of Big Brown fade inexplicably as longshot Da’Tara surged home for the unlikely win, the 139th running of the Shadwell Travers when Colonel John earned the narrowest of victories over Mambo in Seattle, and the Woodward and Jockey Club Gold Cup wins of defending Horse of the Year Curlin.

Trainer Gary Contessa and jockey Alan Garcia both put up big numbers in 2008. Contessa, with 150 wins, topped the trainer standings for the third consecutive year, while Garcia won 220 races for his first NYRA leading jockey title.