12/23/2004 12:00AM

Douglas takes riding title

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INGLEWOOD, Calif. - Rene Douglas earned his first riding title at a Southern California track during the Hollywood Park fall meeting that ended last Monday, leaving him eager for the start of the Santa Anita winter-spring meeting on Sunday.

Douglas, 37, 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 on Monday. "It's a thrill. It's a big deal."

Douglas, who rode in Southern California in the 1990's, 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.

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.

Declan's Moon, the undefeated winner of the Hollywood Futurity, was voted horse of the meeting.

Ontrack numbers down

Attendance and handle at the Hollywood Park fall meeting dropped slightly from the 2003 meeting.

When statewide, interstate, and account-wagering figures were included, the all-sources handle averaged $8,944,323, a drop of one-half of 1 percent. There was surprising growth of 1.3 percent in intertrack handle in the state, a category that has been in decline in recent years.

The ontrack average handle of $1,313,553 was a decline of 2 percent. On many weekdays, ontrack handle failed to reach $1 million.

Account wagering, through the telephone and Internet, rose 14 percent, to an average of $592,528 a day.

The ontrack average attendance of 6,216 marked a decline of 4.6 percent.

Turf racing canceled twice

On the final two Saturdays of the meeting, jockeys refused to ride on the turf course, claiming unsafe conditions.

On Dec. 11, turf racing was canceled after the pick six had started, leaving bettors with selections that were handicapped for turf.

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 last Sunday. Trainer Paul Aguirre scratched All the Boys, the 5-2 morning line favorite in race 7, 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.