04/23/2006 11:00PM

Gains at Santa Anita

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ARCADIA, Calif. - Santa Anita recorded sizable gains in attendance and handle for its 86-day winter-spring meeting that concluded on Sunday, benefiting from a relatively dry winter and large crowds on two of its biggest days.

The track reported an all-sources average handle of $11.6 million on Santa Anita races, an increase of 9.3 percent over the 2004-05 meeting. Ontrack, the average daily handle was $2,245,531, a gain of 11 percent from last year.

The track's president, Ron Charles, cited an increase in the track's promotional budget as one of the primary reasons for the business gains.

The track had an average attendance of 9,341, a gain of 15 percent over the 2004-05 meeting.

"To me that's the success of the meeting," Charles said.

Santa Anita drew an announced ontrack crowd of 49,089 for the Santa Anita Handicap program on March 4 and 54,189 for the Santa Anita Derby program on April 8.

The track increased purses by 5 percent on two occasions - in early February and late March - making both hikes retroactive to opening day, Dec. 26.

"What makes you feel good is that in the last couple of days, the message is it feels like the 1970's and 1980's," Charles said, reflecting on a time when ontrack business was stronger.

On the racetrack, Patrick Valenzuela was the leading rider with 77 wins, while Doug O'Neill led all trainers with 50 wins.

Valenzuela won his third title in the last four years, recording three more wins than Victor Espinoza, who missed three days in the final week because of suspension. Valenzuela had won the 2002-03 and 2004-05 titles. He rode only briefly during the 2003-04 meeting when he was suspended for much of that season for missing a mandatory drug test.

Espinoza led all jockeys with 18 stakes wins, eight more than Alex Solis.

O'Neill won his second consecutive title at the winter-spring meeting. Last year, he set a record of 54 wins at the meeting, 10 of which were stakes. This year, he won 11 stakes, one fewer than Bob Baffert, who finished second in the overall standings with 40 wins.

Brother Derek, who won the Santa Anita Derby and is the favorite to win the Kentucky Derby at Churchill Downs on May 6, was voted horse of the meeting.