04/28/2017 2:20PM

California handle up in March but down for first quarter

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ARCADIA, Calif. – Total handle at California tracks increased 2.7 percent in March but showed a sharp decline of 8.5 percent in the first three months of the year, according to figures released at Thursday’s California Horse Racing Board meeting.

Handle at Thoroughbred meetings at Golden Gate Fields and Santa Anita, the harness meeting at Cal-Expo, and the Quarter Horse and lower-level Thoroughbred meeting at Los Alamitos totaled $252.8 million in March, compared with $245.8 million in March 2016.

Thoroughbred tracks were up 1.5 percent to $223.2 million, while the night meetings rose 12.8 percent to $12.8 million. There was one additional day of racing at the daytime venues and two additional evening programs.

For the quarter, handle was affected by wet conditions in January and February. Thoroughbred programs were down 9.2 percent in handle, while the night meetings have shown a decline of 3.2 percent. Handle at all tracks was $683.1 million, compared with $747.3 million in the first quarter of 2016. There was one fewer program during daytime and nighttime programs this year than in 2016.

◗ The top grass filly in California is nearing her first start of the season. Avenge, the winner of the Grade 1 Rodeo Drive and third in the Breeders’ Cup Filly and Mare Turf in her most recent start Nov. 5, is up to five furlongs in her workouts for trainer Richard Mandella.

“She’s a month away,” Mandella said. “I’m just trying to figure out where to get started. She can do anything. She can go 6 1/2 or a mile and a quarter.”

Avenge, a 5-year-old War Front mare, has won six races and $651,996 from 13 starts for owner Ramona Bass. In addition to the Rodeo Drive, she won the Grade 2 John C. Mabee at Del Mar and in 2015 won a turf-sprint stakes for 3-year-old fillies at Santa Anita.

– additional reporting by Brad Free