07/17/2008 12:00AM

Crowd up but handle down


DEL MAR, Calif. - Del Mar drew a record opening-day crowd of 43,459 on Wednesday, but showed a significant decline in all-sources handle, leading the track's president, Joe Harper, to question how the race meeting will fare in a tough economy.

Wednesday's program was the third consecutive year for a record crowd on opening day. Last year, the crowd reached 42,842. This year's ontrack audience was the second highest in track history, surpassed only by the 44,181 for the 1996 Pacific Classic.

Wednesday's all-sources handle was $13,886,528, down 9.2 percent from the $15,297,608 from last year. The ontrack handle reached $4,030,904, a drop of 13.8 percent from the 2007 figure of $4,677,817.

Harper had feared that the recent downturn in the economy would affect opening-day business.

"Opening day has a life of its own," Harper said. "Now we go into the meat of the meet. Let's get through the first week and see where we are. Where we'll feel the economy is on Thursdays and Mondays."

There were the typical problems of hosting such a massive crowd -long lines for food, drinks and betting.

"It's a good problem to have," Harper said.

The nine-race program included two divisions of the Oceanside Stakes for 3-year-olds on turf, which were won by Kilderry and Dixie Chatter. Both are expected to return in the $400,000 Del Mar Derby on Aug. 31.

Dixie Chatter, the winner of the Grade 1 Norfolk Stakes at the Oak Tree at Santa Anita meeting last fall, revived his career with a win in the $86,800 second division.

Dixie Chatter, by Dixie Union, survived an inquiry and an objection into the stretch run after the third-place finisher, Liberian Freighter, took up near the wire. The stewards ruled that Dixie Chatter could not be faulted for drifting in or runner-up Mr Keppel for drifting to the inside. Liberian Freighter finished in a dead heat for third with Tangled Tango.

Dixie Chatter ($15) ran a mile on turf in 1:35.81. Owned by breeder Herman Sarkowsky and trained by Richard Mandella, Dixie Chatter was third in two stakes at Hollywood Park earlier this summer.

"I was disappointed with his two races at Hollywood Park," Mandella said. "He ran so-so. I thought, why not back up [in distance] and build up his confidence and my confidence."

The $100,000 spent to claim Kilderry out of a maiden race back in April seemed like a lot at the time. It looked like a better buy after the $86,300 first division.

Kilderry, by E Dubai, rallied from sixth to win the Oceanside by a nose over New York invader Moral Compass. Jungle Wave was third in the field of nine. Kilderry ($12.60) ran a mile on turf in 1:35.45. He has earned $122,980 for Dan Capen and Steve, Jeff and Charlene Ustin since being claimed.

"I thought he'd like this turf course more than Hollywood Park, and a mile on turf," trainer Mike Mitchell said. "Here you can come from off of it."