12/20/2004 1:00AM

Douglas takes riding title


INGLEWOOD, Calif. - Rene Douglas landed his first riding title at a Southern California track during the Hollywood Park fall meeting that ended last Monday, leaving the 37-year-old rider more anxious for the start of the Santa Anita winter-spring meeting on Sunday.

Douglas was winless on the final program, but finished with 37 wins, two more than Tyler Baze.

"I didn't want to think about it until today because Tyler was getting close to me," Douglas said. "It's a thrill. It's a big deal."

Douglas, who rode in Southern California in the 1990s, returned to the circuit in September. He won four consecutive titles at Arlington Park from 2001-04.

At Santa Anita, Douglas will be challenged by Baze and Victor Espinoza, who finished third at Hollywood Park with 31 wins.

"I've ridden at Santa Anita before," Douglas said. "I have confidence everywhere I go."

Trainer Doug O'Neill led all trainers with 17 wins, three more than Bob Baffert and five more than Mike Harrington. O'Neill won the training title at Del Mar earlier this year.

* The meeting was marred by two embarrassing incidents for track management in the final two weeks. On the final two Saturdays of the meetings, jockeys refused to ride on the turf course, citing unsafe conditions.

On Dec. 11, turf racing was cancelled after the pick six had started, leaving bettors furious they were not informed of the change before the popular bet had started.

When turf racing was abandoned on Dec. 18, the announcement was made before the pick six began. Jockey Danny Sorenson said the course had hard and soft spots and was uneven.

"It's the uneven spots" that are causing problems, Sorenson said. "We got together as a group and discussed it. We had to look out for what was best for us and the horses. As a group, we elected to call it a meet."

Four races were removed from the turf on Dec. 19. On that day's seventh race, All the Boys was the 5-2 morning-line favorite. Trainer Paul Aguirre scratched All the Boys at lunchtime, but the information was not relayed to the public until 2:50 p.m., 45 minutes before post time. Track officials said the scratch card was "misplaced" in the racing office.

* From a business standpoint, attendance and handle figures fell from the 2003 fall meeting.

The on-track average attendance of 6,216 marked a decline of 4.6 percent.

The on-track average handle of $1,313,553 fell 2 percent. On many weekdays, on-track handle failed to reach $1 million.

When statewide, interstate and advance deposit wagering figures were included, the all-sources handle averaged $8,944,323, a drop of half of one-percent. There was surprising growth of 1.3 percent in inter-track handle through the state, a category that has been in decline in recent years.

Average advance deposit wagering through the telephone and internet rose 14 percent, to $592,528.

Declan's Moon, the undefeated winner of the Hollywood Futurity, was voted Horse of the Meeting.