01/05/2009 12:00AM

Attendance up, handle down at Santa Anita


ARCADIA, Calif. - Ontrack attendance is up, but handle is down through the first nine days of the Santa Anita winter-spring meeting, track officials said Sunday.

Through Sunday, ontrack attendance was up 4 percent compared to the 2007-08 meeting, track president Ron Charles said. All-sources handle figures, including satellite and account-wagering sources, showed a decline of 8 or 9 percent, Charles said. Detailing the figures, Charles said that out-of-state handle was down 12 to 13 percent, and account wagering, through Internet and telephone sources, was down 7 percent.

Charles said he was surprised in the decline in account wagering.

"We were up 40 percent last year," he said.

In 2008, account wagering in California was expanded to include all four companies permitted to do business in California. Prior to that, Xpressbet and Youbet.com accepted bets on Santa Anita's winter meeting, while Twinspires and TVG did not. Currently, all four companies accept bets on Santa Anita's races.

Charles said that account wagering has been "rallying a little" in recent days.

"We were down a little more earlier on," he said. "Out of state, I thought certain players or certain sites weren't playing, but it's [down] across the board. It's a fairly solid pattern. Every racetrack or OTB is down a little bit."

Exact comparisons between 2007-08 and the current meeting are virtually impossible. Last year, the track canceled the first Saturday and Sunday of 2008 because of poor drainage on the main track. Eventually, the track canceled 11 days of racing through the winter because of drainage problems, and made up three of those canceled days on weekdays. This year, there has been fine weather and no such interruptions.

In addition, Santa Anita has shifted its racing week from a Thursday-through-Monday schedule that was in effect for one year during the 2007-08 meeting to the current Wednesday-through-Sunday schedule. A Wednesday-through-Sunday schedule was in place in prior seasons.

"In attendance, we're pleased," Charles said. "We're really trying to get people out here. We're being affected by the economy. Our per-capita is lower. People are spending less money. There seems to be less disposable income."

Attendance figures were boosted by a strong opening-day crowd on Dec. 26 of 33,112, a gain of 9.8 percent over the 2007 opening-day audience.

Also, on Fridays the track is offering free admission and box seats and offering discounted concessions. Last Friday, the first day of the promotion, the ontrack crowd reached 9,269 on a day when many people were not working because of the holiday weekend.

Charles is hoping the Friday free admission promotion will boost attendance from a typical crowd of approximately 3,500 to past 4,000. If successful, other days may be heavily promoted, he said.

"If we can turn 3,500 into 4,500 or 5,000, we'll look at what we can do on Thursday to stimulate that," he said.

Baze coming back week later than planned

A little later than expected, Tyler Baze is making a comeback from injury in Wednesday's seventh race at Santa Anita.

Baze, who has not ridden since Dec. 5 because of shoulder and rib injuries sustained in a spill, is booked to ride It's in God's Hands in an allowance race at 6 1/2 furlongs.

Baze, 26, had hoped to return to riding for the opening day of the Santa Anita winter-spring meeting on Dec. 26 but postponed his comeback when he realized he needed more time to recover.

On the final weekend of December, he told his agent, Ron Ebanks, to postpone his comeback until Wednesday.

"We had opening day as a target and it was too soon," he said. "Then we targeted the 1st. I told him, 'I can't go out there 75 percent. I want to go out there when I can give 100 percent.' "

Baze was injured at Hollywood Park on Dec. 5 when his mount ducked through the inner rail after the finish of a turf race.

The winner of the Eclipse Award as the nation's outstanding apprentice jockey of 2001, Baze exercised horses on Saturday and Sunday. He admitted he was a little sore on Sunday morning, but expected that to diminish as Wednesday approached.

"I got on another four this morning and I feel fine," he said on Sunday. "As the days progress, I should be getting better and better."

Baze has only one mount on Wednesday, two on Thursday, and one on Friday. All three days have several races with short fields.

"I'm pretty anxious" to get started, he said. "Business might be a little slow until people see that I'm fine now. I'm not too worried about it."

Sharp claim Tizfiz gives DeLeon first graded win

The first time that Tizfiz was eligible to be claimed, trainer Rafael DeLeon and owners Brian Kahn and Richard O'Neill jumped at the chance. They paid $50,000 to claim the then 4-year-old filly in October when she made the ninth start of her career.

Three races later, DeLeon won the biggest race of his career in Sunday's $150,000 San Gorgonio Handicap, a Grade 2 stakes.

"I've won some $75,000 races, but never a graded stakes," said DeLeon, 47. "I claimed her because my owners liked her and I thought she could run long."

Tizfiz did just enough to win the San Gorgonio at 1 1/8 miles on turf. Ridden by Agapito Delgadillo, Tizfiz set a slow pace and held off a late run from Marzelline to win by a nose. DeLeon did not state where Tizfiz would make her next start. She could resurface in the $150,000 Buena Vista Handicap for fillies and mares at a mile on turf on Feb. 16.

Serra Song's win lessens the sting for Mandella

Tizfiz was previously trained by Richard Mandella, who won the race following the San Gorgonio with the promising allowance-class runner Serra Song. It was a small consolation for Mandella, who described watching Tizfiz's win as "very humbling."

"That's a nice guy and a good horseman that got him," he said. "I prefer it hadn't happened at my expense."

Serra Song could start next in the $200,000 San Antonio Handicap on Feb. 8. Owned by B. Wayne Hughes, Serra Song, 5, has won 3 of 6 starts and $98,980.

Ridden by Victor Espinoza, Serra Song stalked pacesetter Nikki'sgoldensteed to the turn and held off a late run from 19-1 outsider Thorn of Power to win by three-quarters of a length.

Mandella said he had a few nervous moments in the stretch, worried that Serra Song was waiting on his rivals.

"I think he likes to hang with horses a little bit," Mandella said. "He hasn't run that many times."

Sunday's win was Serra Song's second consecutive victory following an eight-month break caused by a severe throat abscess.