11/11/2003 1:00AM

Cal Cup to be moved up


ARCADIA, Calif. - The 2004 California Cup at Santa Anita will be moved to mid-October in an effort to boost customer interest in the day, according to a top official.

Ontrack attendance at Saturday's 14th running of the California Cup, a day for California-bred horses, was 18,029, an all-time low. The overall handle of $16,074,662 was the fifth highest in history, but a substantial drop from $19,834,206 in 2002.

Sherwood Chillingworth, executive vice president of the Oak Tree Racing Association, which conducts the fall meeting at Santa Anita, said moving the California Cup to Oct. 16, 2004, would position the event two weeks before the Breeders' Cup at Lone Star Park in Grand Prairie, Texas.

Chillingworth said the presence of the Breeders' Cup at Santa Anita on Oct. 25 played a role in the small crowd on Saturday.

"The California Cup was a major disappointment," he said. "We did more advertising than ever before."

Chillingworth discussed moving the Cal Cup to mid-October with officials of the California Thoroughbred Breeders Association on Saturday evening.

The California Cup has been run in late October and early November, except for 1993 when it was held in mid-October. Oak Tree hosted the 1993 Breeders' Cup in early November.

No business figures released

Because the Breeders' Cup was run during the meet, attendance and handle figures from this year's Oak Tree at Santa Anita meet are difficult to compare with those of recent Oak Tree meetings. The track did not release handle and attendance figures to the press. The Oak Tree meet ended Sunday.

Business was lower than expected, though, forcing a 10 percent purse cut for the final seven days of the meeting and the cancellation of the $200,000 Las Palmas Handicap on Sunday.

A successful Breeders' Cup - which drew an ontrack crowd of 51,648 that contributed to an overall handle of $120.8 million - did not directly benefit California horsemen, because Oak Tree received a fee from the Breeders' Cup for the day, none of which went to the overall purse structure.

Chillingworth said a combination of warm weather, wildfires in late October, and an ongoing strike of the Los Angeles County bus system hurt business at the meeting.

On the racetrack, trainer Doug O'Neill set an Oak Tree record with 22 wins, one more than the previous record achieved by Bob Baffert in 1998 and 1999.

Jockey Patrick Valenzuela won his fourth consecutive title at a major meeting, finishing with 34 wins, one more than Tyler Baze. Earlier this year, Valenzuela won riding titles at Santa Anita winter-spring meeting, Hollywood Park, and Del Mar.

Halfbridled, the winner of the Breeders' Cup Juvenile Fillies, was voted horse of the meeting.