04/18/2004 11:00PM

All-sources handle declines

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ARCADIA, Calif. - A minimal gain in ontrack handle at the Santa Anita winter-spring meeting that ended Sunday was more than offset by a drop in offtrack handle, resulting in a decline in daily average all-sources handle from the 2002-03 meet.

The average daily ontrack handle rose by $782, to $2,244,754, but a 9 percent drop in average out-of-state handle and a 1.9 percent drop in average statewide handle led to a decline in all-sources handle of 3.4 percent from 2002-2003, to $10,646,793. With one fewer day offered at this meet than at the last, total handle fell 4.7 percent to $892,888,532.

Average ontrack attendance rose 2.7 percent to 8,900, Advance deposit wagering, through the Internet and telephone, grew 22.5 percent, to a $721,033 daily average

The meeting got off to a slow start, particularly interstate handle, after Magna Entertainment Corp., which owns Santa Anita, withdrew the track's signal from several advance deposit wagering outlets, angering many customers across the country. The decision was made in an effort to promote Magna's advance deposit system, XpressBet, which is in its third year of business.

The track cut purses in late January because of poor business in the first month. Overnight purses were cut 6.5 percent and stakes purses were reduced by $450,000.

On the track, jockey Victor Espinoza, trainer Jeff Mullins, and owners Jim and Marcia Equils won titles for the first time.

Espinoza finished with 89 victories, 10 more than Alex Solis. Mullins won 45 races, three more than Doug O'Neill. Jim and Marcia Equils led all owners with 18 wins.

Espinoza caught Solis in the final month when Solis was traveling extensively to ride in major stakes around the world.

For Espinoza, 31, it was his first riding title at the Santa Anita winter-spring meeting and first title at any meeting since Del Mar in 2000.

Mullins dethroned Bob Baffert, who had won seven consecutive titles.

Mullins, 41, had four stakes wins during the meeting, including the $750,000 Santa Anita Derby with Castledale.

The Equils, who live in Laguna Hills, Calif., have 32 horses with trainers Steve Knapp and Jack Carava. The Equils led the owners' standings at the 2003 spring-summer meeting at Hollywood Park.