09/08/2005 12:00AM

Handle a record $14M daily; purses up


DEL MAR, Calif. - Boosted by strong ontrack business, Del Mar set records for all-sources handle and average daily handle at the 43-day meeting that ended on Wednesday.

The all-sources handle, combining ontrack and offtrack sources, was $608,168,297, the first time it has passed the $600 million mark. The daily average all-sources handle was $14,143,449, a gain of 4.8 percent over 2004. The average ontrack handle of $2,532,740 was a gain of 6.5 percent. Average daily handle from Internet and telephone betting rose to a record $1,255,141.

"To see the numbers go up and hold up is amazing," said Del Mar's president, Joe Harper. "It sure has been fun to continue this roll."

Even with a small purse increase before the meeting, business was so strong over the seven-week meeting that the track raised purses 5 percent on Aug. 24, retroactive to the meet's on July 20 start. Track officials say a second retroactive purse increase of approximately $750,000 is expected later this year, after revenue from handle is computed.

Attendance figures were relatively flat. The daily ontrack average of 17,007 was down 45 customers from 2004. Offtrack attendance at satellite locations and racetracks in the state averaged 10,558, a drop of 9.1 percent.

Jockey Victor Espinoza and trainer Jeff Mullins led their respective categories, but needed all 43 days of the meeting to reach the top.

Espinoza, 33, finished the season with 53 wins, three more than Garrett Gomez.

Espinoza began Wednesday's final day with a one-race lead over Gomez, and scored three wins on the 10-race program.

The title was Espinoza's first at Del Mar since 2000 and first at any track since the 2003-04 Santa Anita winter-spring meting.

Mullins, 42, swept the early double on Wednesday to finish with 23 winners, one more than Bob Baffert. Mullins and Baffert entered Wednesday tied on 21 victories.

The title was the first for Mullins since the 2004 Hollywood Park spring-summer meeting.

Mullins said the meeting had taken its toll on some of his horses.

"You know how it goes. There are ups and downs," he said. "This meet has ground on a few horses."

Synthetic track may lie ahead

Del Mar is considering installing a synthetic Polytrack surface for the 2006 meeting, but there are potential hurdles that could postpone the project one year.

Craig Fravel, executive vice-president of Del Mar, said it has been difficult to find 14,000 tons of suitable sand, that the cost of the project has not been finalized, and that the project still needs the approval of the California Coastal Commission.

"Anytime you import material on a sight within a coastal zone, you have to deal with the coastal commission," Fravel said.