12/22/2008 12:00AM

As foreseen, handle slips significantly


INGLEWOOD, Calif. - Hollywood Park ended its 40-day autumn meeting on Sunday with the expected declines in attendance and handle.

According to figures released by the track, all-sources average handle on Hollywood races, including ontrack, satellite, and account-wagering sources, was $8,951,903, a drop of 18.3 percent from last year's meet. All categories showed double-digit declines. Ontrack average handle was $1,056,996, a drop of 21 percent; account wagering fell 22.8 percent, to $1,354,647; and out-of-state simulcasting fell 21 percent.

Fighting an economy in recession, Hollywood Park had its business further hampered by a contract dispute between the Thoroughbred Owners of California and four account wagering companies over distribution of revenue from Internet and telephone wagering sources outside the state

Customers who wager through those systems were unable to bet on Hollywood Park races for more than three weeks of the eight-week meeting. The owners' group is the state's official representative for purses and must approve purse contracts.

As a result of the economy and the account-wagering dispute, purses were essentially cut three times this fall - by 7 percent before the meeting in anticipation of slow handle, by 6.25 percent on Oct. 29 (opening day) because of the account wagering dispute, and by 5 percent in late November because of poor business.

Average ontrack attendance fell 12 percent, to 4,353.

"We ran into a double whammy in the fall with the poor economy and an unexpected [account-wagering] standoff," track president Jack Liebau said in a statement. "The decrease in business affected everyone as purses had to be cut."

According to a track statement, account-wagering handle rose from a daily average of $993,320 during the 17-day dispute to more than $1.6 million after the issue was resolved. For the final 23 days of the meeting, after the dispute was resolved, the track had an average all-sources handle of $9.3 million, which was still a decline of 15.2 percent from 2007.

Jockey Rafael Bejarano capped a remarkable first full year in California by winning 52 races, 20 more than runner-up Joel Rosario. Bejarano, 26, swept the five riding titles at the major race meetings in Southern California in 2008.

Trainer Doug O'Neill saddled a record 27 winners at the fall meeting, his fourth title at the meet. O'Neill, 40, held the previous record of 24 wins at the fall meeting, set in 2006. John Sadler was second with 21 winners.