04/20/2008 11:00PM

All-sources handle drops; account betting up


ARCADIA, Calif. - The Santa Anita winter-spring meeting, plagued by the cancellation of 11 racing days in January and early February because of main-track drainage problems, ended Sunday with declines in average daily attendance and ontrack handle, a slight decline in all-sources handle, and an increase in account-wagering handle. The meet began on Dec. 26, 2007.

According to figures provided by the track, average daily handle from all sources, including incoming simulcasts, was approximately $11.7 million, a decline of 0.5 percent from last year. The average ontrack daily handle on all races was $1.8 million, a drop of 13 percent. Average ontrack attendance was down 5 percent.

Average daily handle on Santa Anita's races, however, was up. The ontrack average handle on Santa Anita races was $1.3 million, a drop of 11 percent, but advance deposit wagering on Santa Anita races averaged $1.06 million a day, a gain of 81 percent from last year. That led to an increase of 2 percent for handle on Santa Anita's races, to a daily average of $9.4 million.

This year marked the first Santa Anita season that all account-wagering providers licensed in California offered betting on Santa Anita races.

Gina Lavo, Santa Anita's chief financial officer, said comparisons from the 2006-07 meeting to this year's meeting were difficult because of the loss of 11 racing days early in the meeting after the synthetic main track failed to sufficiently drain following substantial rain. Three makeup days were added later in the meeting, bringing the net lost racing days to eight.

"It was hard to figure out day to day," she said. "We thought we'd be down on everything. We're happy with the results."

The synthetic racetrack underwent a five-day renovation in early February, adding materials from the Pro-Ride synthetic surface of Australia to the existing Cushion Track surface. No further racing days were lost after the renovation.

Lavo said the lost days of racing cost the track approximately $67 million in handle.

Lavo said business "held its own" in March and April, with improved weather.

"We lost everything in the first two months," she said.

The decline in attendance was a concern for Lavo.

"What scares me is that they're not coming," she said. "It's not horrible in this economy. I'd love to average more."

Jockey Rafael Bejarano won his first riding title in Southern California in his first full meet on this circuit. He arrived from Kentucky last November. Bejarano, who missed three weeks because of a back injury in March and early April, finished with 67 winners, four more than defending champion Garrett Gomez. Gomez did not ride the final two weeks of the meeting after relocating to Kentucky.

"After I got back from being hurt, I thought I couldn't beat Gomez," Bejarano said. "It was a little tough."

Trainer Mike Mitchell led all trainers with 33 wins, five more than John Sadler. Mitchell won his first title at this meeting since 1992-93.

"To win this title at the winter meet at Santa Anita, it's the most prestigious meet of all," he said. "It's been an unbelievable meeting."

Colonel John, winner of the Santa Anita Derby and a leading contender for the Kentucky Derby, was named horse of the meeting.