04/16/2009 11:00PM

Free Fridays help attendance; handle slips

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ARCADIA, Calif. - Boosted by a promotion of free general admission on Fridays, Santa Anita will end its winter-spring meeting on Sunday with a slight increase in ontrack attendance but a drop in ontrack handle, track president Ron Charles said.

Charles described the attendance figures as "very encouraging" despite a tough economic climate. He did not provide exact figures. "We have a chance to be up in attendance and have a chance to be close in ontrack handle," he said.

The all-sources handle, including statewide and nationwide sources, will be down substantially, as much as 11 percent, Charles said. He said that account wagering, through telephone and Internet sources, is relatively unchanged from the 2007-08 meeting.

As a result of the handle drop, the track has overpaid purses at this meeting, meaning it will carry a debt into the 2009-10 meeting. That could lead to a lower purse structure next year if the debt is considered too high.

Ontrack attendance on Fridays has been one of the high points of the meeting. Fridays typically drew 5,000 to 6,000 fans, a gain of approximately 2,000 fans from previous years.

"That was one thing we aimed for this year was to attract people back to the track and get people back from the satellites," Charles said. "Fridays were the difference."

Santa Anita will be open for satellite wagering through the spring and summer, until the Oak Tree meeting begins on Sept. 30. The Oak Tree meeting will feature the Breeders' Cup races on Nov. 6-7. Charles said the track's satellite operation is unlikely to change, even though the track's parent company, Magna Entertainment, is going through Chapter 11 bankruptcy proceedings.

This summer, Santa Anita's backstretch and racetrack will stay open for training. It has been closed for the last two years, when the track installed a Cushion Track synthetic surface in 2007 and a Pro-Ride surface in 2008.

Charles said there is a possibility that Santa Anita's track could be closed briefly for maintenance on the existing synthetic track, pending technical studies and consultation with the manufacturers of Pro-Ride.

"We don't think there will have to be a lot done," Charles said. "We're having some additional testing. There will be some analysis and evaluation where the track is."

Bejarano poised to take sixth straight title

Jockey Rafael Bejarano has clinched his sixth consecutive riding title at a major meeting in Southern California.

Through Thursday, Bejarano had 95 wins at the Santa Anita meeting, nine more than Garrett Gomez, who has ridden primarily at Keeneland since April 5. Joel Rosario, who missed Wednesday and Thursday's races because of illness, was third with 76 wins.

Bejarano essentially clinched the title when Gomez left for Kentucky earlier this month. Through April 4, Gomez led 86-80. Bejarano caught him on April 9. He regretted seeing Gomez leave, mainly for competitive reasons.

"I wish he could have stayed, so there was no excuse," Bejarano said. "I was close before he left, and then I started winning again."

Bejarano, 27, will finish the Santa Anita meeting with the most wins since Kent Desormeaux won 112 races in 1994-95. The all-time record of 138 wins was set by Laffit Pincay Jr. in the 1970-71 season.

Bejarano will attempt to win a seventh consecutive riding title at the Hollywood Park spring-summer meeting that begins on Wednesday and runs through July 19.

He will be gone for the Kentucky Derby on May 2 when he rides Papa Clem, the winner of the Arkansas Derby at Oaklawn Park on April 11. "He's my big horse," Bejarano said. "He's getting better."

Among Bejarano's big wins at the meet were the Sunshine Millions Turf on Soldier's Dancer and the Grade 2 San Gabriel on Proudinsky.

Pedroza aims for a June comeback

Martin Pedroza, who has not ridden since Jan. 11 because of a fractured pelvis, is hoping to return to racing by June 1. Pedroza, 43, was a visitor at Clocker's Corner, the trackside pavilion overlooking the Santa Anita racetrack, on Friday morning.

Pedroza was injured when he was thrown from his mount during a post parade. He was bedridden for 21 days, and has slowly resumed exercising. He said on Friday that he has been lifting weights and jogging to maintain fitness.

"The worst is over," he said.

Pedroza had hoped to return to riding in March, but recovery has been slow. He said he was initially unable to get into a jockey's crouch position, but had no trouble doing so on Friday.

When Pedroza ran into trainer Mike Machowsky, he asked about Majormotionpicture. "I'll be back in time for my big horse," Pedroza said.

Last summer at Del Mar, Pedroza rode Majormotionpicture to an exciting win in a maiden race. Majormotionpicture has not started since, and has not had a published workout since January.

Free admission on Thursdays at Hollywood

In an effort to drive attendance, Hollywood Park will offer free admission on Thursdays during the upcoming meeting.

The track will discount some concessions, offering $1 hot dogs and sodas through the day and $1 beers from noon until 3 p.m.

Hollywood Park will race primarily at night on Fridays during the meeting. The one exception is May 1, the day of the Kentucky Oaks simulcast at Churchill Downs. On Friday nights, Hollywood Park will offer $1 hot dogs and sodas through the evening and $1 beer from 6 to 9 p.m.

The opening-day feature Wednesday is the $70,000 Harry Henson Stakes for 3-year-olds at six furlongs on turf. Backbackbackgone, a three-time stakes winner who has not started since finishing 10th in the Sunshine Millions Dash at Gulfstream Park in January, and Position A, a game second in an allowance race at Santa Anita on March 29, are among the nominees.

Saturday's card is the California Gold Rush program dedicated to statebreds. There are six stakes worth $150,000 to $250,000, two allowance races, and two races for maidens.

Next Sunday's main race is the $100,000 Inglewood Handicap at 1 1/16 miles on turf.