09/28/2010 3:08PM

Handle declines 8.17% at meeting


POMONA, Calif. – The 2010 Los Angeles County Fair meet finished a 15-day run of predictability Monday at Fairplex Park. There were few surprises.

Favorites won nearly 45 percent of Thoroughbred races (71 for 158), Martin Pedroza won his 12th consecutive riding title, and high-volume Doug O’Neill topped the trainer standings for seventh time in nine years.

Faced with a slow economy and benefitting from only three pick-six carryovers during a 15-day meet, overall Fairplex handle slipped 8.17 percent to $75.4 million. Average daily handle was $5.02 million, the lowest since 1994.

Although 2010 was the second year since Fairplex reduced to 15 days, the track ran 158 Thoroughbred races, only three fewer than 2004, the last time the meet was 17 days.

Average field size in 2010 declined to 7.15 starters, down from 7.99 starters one year ago. The field size was the smallest in the 20 years field-size statistics have been available. The 45 percent win rate for favorites also was the most extreme in at least 20 years.

“I’m not concerned about the high percentage of favorites winning,” equine manager Kim Lloyd said. “It’s a matter of opportunity. Do you take away the opportunity for small trainers to make money, or do you tighten it up with fewer races?”

In order to fill races, Fairplex ran more half-mile races (38) for Thoroughbreds than any previous meet. Favorites won 19 of those races.

Lloyd said Fairplex officials will reflect on 2010 before deciding if changes are necessary for 2011.

“We’ll look at everything and determine the best course of action,” he said.

Asked if fewer races might be run, Lloyd said, “That is something we will consider.”

One attribute that will remain is the safe and consistent dirt track at Fairplex. There were no fatalities in racing or training during the meet, according to Lloyd, even though Santa Anita’s closure has increased activity at Fairplex.

“The horses are all coming back good,” Lloyd said.

The two most impressive stakes victories at the meet were by 2-year-olds. The filly True Way of Grace won the $91,872 Barretts Debutante on Sept. 18; the colt Clubhouse Ride overcame trouble Sept. 19 to win the $100,495 Barretts Debutante.

Pedroza, despite not riding two days because of illness and injury, finished the meet with 45 wins. Pedroza has won a record 651 races at Fairplex. Alonso Quinonez was second in the standings with 15 wins, including the meet’s premier race. On Sunday, Quinonez guided $53.40 longshot Cayambe to victory in the $75,000 Ralph M. Hinds.

O’Neill won 14 races from 50 starters and is now the fourth-leading all-time trainer at Fairplex with 99 wins. Jorge Gutierrez, trainer for California owner-breeder Ben Warren, won 10 races from 33 starters to rank second in the standings.