04/17/2010 11:00PM

As expected, Santa Anita ends with handle dip

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ARCADIA, Calif. - Santa Anita concluded its four-month winter-spring meeting on Sunday with sharp declines in handle and attendance compared to the corresponding meeting in 2008-09.

According to limited data released by the track, all-sources daily handle was down 11 percent. The figure includes betting ontrack, at satellites in California, and nationwide, and account wagering through telephone and Internet.

Ontrack attendance was down 6 percent, while ontrack handle was down 15 percent. Handle through Southern California's satellite network was down 8 percent, while average daily handle out of state was down 13 percent.

The loss of business was close to projections, according to track president Ron Charles, but was further hurt by the cancellation of five racing days in January and February because the synthetic main track failed to drain sufficiently.

Charles said on Sunday that he had weekend conversations with Frank Stronach, the president of parent company Magna Entertainment, about whether the Pro-Ride synthetic surface will be replaced this summer, but that no decision has been made. Two options are a return to a dirt surface for the first time since 2007 or leaving the synthetic track.

"I'm confident a decision will be made soon," Charles said. "It needs to be made in the near future."

Charles said the cancellation of five racing days and uncertainty whether the track would run on March 6, the day of the Santa Anita Handicap, hurt business. Rain fell that weekend in early March, leaving some customers unsure whether the program would go ahead. The Big Cap card drew an ontrack crowd of 23,829, several thousand lower than track officials had hoped.

"We did so much promotion and there was uncertainty whether we'd be racing," Charles said.

Charles said the final weeks of the meeting showed improvement. The track drew crowds of 17,170 and 17,345 on Saturday and Sunday.

"We finished up pretty well," he said.

Jockey Rafael Bejarano won the riding title for the third consecutive year at this meeting, finishing with 94 victories. Joel Rosario was second with 73.

John Sadler led all trainers with 41 wins, seven more than Bob Baffert. Sadler, 53, defended his title from the 2008-09 meeting, and won his second consecutive title on the circuit, having also won the training title at the Hollywood Park fall meeting last year.

Tuscan Evening, who won four turf stakes at the meeting ranging in distance from about 6 1/2 furlongs to 1 1/4 miles, was named horse of the meeting in a media poll.