Updated on 09/18/2011 1:40AM

Handle up, crowds a puzzle


INGLEWOOD, Calif. - Hollywood Park has shown growth in the crucial categories of mutuel handle and field size during the current fall meeting, but has had trouble drawing an ontrack crowd since the meet began on Nov. 1.

Through Sunday, the 25th day of the 36-day meeting, ontrack handle has increased 9 percent and all-sources handle has increased 14 percent, according to the track's president, Jack Liebau The figures exclude handle from the Breeders' Cup program on Nov. 4, a major day that was not part of the track's 2005 schedule.

"The ontrack handle is good, without a doubt," Liebau said on Wednesday. "The one thing that is somewhat stunning is the ontrack handle on our own races is up 22 percent."

The 2005 and 2006 meetings are significantly different. Last year, the track did not conduct turf racing because the course was deemed unsafe after being resod in the summer of 2005. As a result, the track held racing only on the main track and ran some four-day weeks in December.

This year, the turf course is back in use. Hollywood Park became the first track in California to conduct racing on a synthetic track, known by the trade name Cushion Track. The new surface has proven to be popular with horsemen, who have filled the backstretch to capacity.

The enthusiasm has led to larger fields. Through Sunday, the track has averaged 8.3 runners per race, compared with 7.5 in 2005. Higher field size make races more attractive to bettors, providing more choices in the straight and exotic pools, and leads to higher handle.

"We haven't been this high in the last 15 years," said Hollywood's racing secretary, Martin Panza. "I have to fight to be at 8 during the summer meeting."

Panza expects field size to be strong in the final week of the meeting, which ends on Dec. 18, since there is no live racing in Southern California until the start of the Santa Anita winter-spring meeting on Dec. 26.

"We've done much better than previously," Panza said.

While those figures are encouraging, attendance has been alarmingly low. Despite near-perfect weather through November, the track has failed to draw an ontrack crowd in excess of 10,000. The Nov. 26 program that featured the Hollywood Derby and Matriarch Stakes, had an ontrack crowd of 8,017. The simulcast of the Breeders' Cup program drew 9,819.

On several weekdays, the track has failed to draw 3,000 people, which makes the large stands seem even emptier.

Liebau said the low figures have puzzled track officials, and that he has questioned the accuracy of the numbers.

"We can't figure it out," he said. "Admission revenues are up over last year. We're somewhat suspicious of our own attendance."

Liebau said that, if Breeders' Cup day is not included in the comparisons, attendance is down 2 percent when compared with last year.

In 2005, the track ran a 27-day meeting that averaged 5,199 in daily attendance, an average ontrack handle of $1,309,921, and an all-sources handle of $8,879,520.

Campaign may be Meteor Storm's last

Meteor Storm has won four major stakes in his career, which began in 2001 in France. Adding to that total this winter has taken on added significance for the Horizon stable partnership and trainer Wally Dollase.

There is a chance that Meteor Storm could be sold in coming months for stud duty in South Africa. Dollase said that Meteor Storm could be retired in late spring, in time for the Southern Hemisphere breeding season.

Through the winter, Meteor Storm will race in Southern California. He will start as a top contender in Saturday's $250,000 Hollywood Turf Cup over 1 1/2 miles. The race has drawn a field of eight, including Artiste Royal, Boboman, Cosmonaut, Mighty Mysterious, Runaway Dancer, Symphony Sid, and T.H. Approval.

Meteor Storm, 7, will be making just his third start of the year in the Grade 1 Turf Cup. He was sidelined for nine months from December 2005 until late September of this year after suffering a bone chip in an ankle after winning the Grade 2 W.L. McKnight Handicap at Calder last year.

In two starts this year, Meteor Storm was fourth in the Grade 2 Kelso Breeders' Cup Handicap at Belmont Park on Sept. 20 and fifth in the Grade 1 Canadian International at Woodbine on Oct. 22.

"The track was very soft up there," Dollase said of the Woodbine surface.

Meteor Storm has not run on the Hollywood Park turf course since winning an optional claimer in November 2003. The win came a few months before the best span of his career, when he won three consecutive graded stakes: the San Luis Rey, San Juan Capistrano, and Manhattan handicaps.

Dollase is hopeful that Meteor Storm can regain that form beginning Saturday.

"He's got a lot of class and the farther, the better," Dollase said. "If he likes the turf course, he'll be tough. He's training like gangbusters."

Ray Parfet, owner, dies

Ray Parfet, former chairman of the Upjohn pharmaceutical firm and a Thoroughbred owner and breeder, died on Nov. 27 in Kalamazoo, Mich., according to published reports. Parfet was 84 and had been suffering from cardiovascular problems.

At the time of his death, Parfet and his wife, Martha, owned Horse Greeley, the winner of the Grade 2 Del Mar Futurity last September.

Parfet and his wife also campaigned Chile Chatte, Horse Greeley's dam, who won 4 of 21 starts and $317,315. She was second in two Grade 1 races: the 1995 Hollywood Starlet Stakes and the 1997 Milady Breeders' Cup Handicap.

Parfet was a bomber pilot in World War II, flying missions in Italy and Austria. He began working at Upjohn as an accountant, after marrying Martha Gilmore Parfet, a granddaughter of the founder.

Ray Parfet rose to chairman and chief executive, a position he held from 1969 to 1987.

* Dilemma, the winner of the Sunny Slope Stakes and the runner-up in the Hollywood Prevue Stakes, will not start in the Hollywood Futurity on Dec. 16 because of sore shins, trainer Paddy Gallagher said. Gallagher said that Dilemma will be rested for a 2007 campaign.