09/11/2003 12:00AM

Handle, attendance, and P-Val all are up


DEL MAR, Calif. - Patrick Valenzuela confirmed his status as top jockey in Southern California this summer at Del Mar, overcoming a stiff challenge from Julie Krone to defend his riding title there and earn his third consecutive title on the circuit.

Valenzuela finished the meet, which concluded Wednesday, with 52 wins, three more than Krone. Valenzuela led by one entering Sunday's program but won five races in the final three racing days.

The race between Valenzuela and Krone was the highlight of a meeting that posted strong handle and attendance figures. The average daily handle was a record $13,274,308, a gain of 7.5 percent over last year. The figure includes statewide and nationwide simulcasting and betting through the telephone and the Internet.

The average daily ontrack handle of $2,394,934 is an increase of 4 percent.

Average ontrack attendance rose 8.8 percent to 16,881, the highest since intertrack wagering began in Southern California in late 1987.

"Financially, it's the best meet we've had by far," said track president Joe Harper.

One area that was a problem for Del Mar was the condition of the turf course, which drew widespread complaints. Harper said the course would be overseeded next spring and would not be cut as short as it was this year for the start of the meeting. For 2005, the course will be widened and banked in an effort to satisfy a requirement of hosting the Breeders' Cup in future years, Harper said.

Valenzuela's fine year isn't done yet

Valenzuela, 40, won riding titles earlier this year at Santa Anita and Hollywood Park. With his Del Mar crown, he becomes the first jockey since Gary Stevens in 1988 to sweep the circuit's first three meetings of the year. Valenzuela will resume riding on a full-time basis at the Oak Tree meet at Santa Anita that begins on Sept. 28.

"It feels awesome and we're not done yet," he said.

Valenzuela said that Krone pushed him to the finish and that he will work harder during the mornings in future months.

"You'll see a different Pat at Oak Tree," he said. "I was working pretty hard all year. This was six days a week. My kids were here for part of the time, and I took advantage of that by taking some mornings off."

Krone was the meeting's leading rider by stakes wins, with nine. She won three of the meeting's top races - the $980,000 Pacific Classic on Candy Ride, the $250,000 Del Mar Debutante on Halfbridled, and Wednesday's $250,000 Del Mar Futurity on Siphonizer.

Krone lost a match race against Valenzuela last Sunday, which Valenzuela called one of his highlights of the meeting.

"Winning the match race was nice, but I enjoyed performing on a daily basis," Valenzuela said.

Valenzuela has won five riding titles at Del Mar, the first in 1986.

Bob Baffert won his seventh consecutive Del Mar trainers title, tying Farrell Jones's mark from 1960 to 1966. Baffert won 23 races, his lowest total since he had 18 winners in 1998. Jeff Mullins finished second with 15 wins. Baffert had one stakes winner - Dirty Diana in the California Thoroughbred Breeders Association Stakes in July.

Candy Ride was voted Horse of the Meeting. He races for Sid and Jenny Craig, who led all owners with earnings of $830,698.