09/07/2006 12:00AM

Handle slips from 2005


DEL MAR, Calif. - After setting records for all-sources handle for four consecutive years, business dropped by 4.3 percent at Del Mar this summer, but the total all-sources handle of $582,604,451 was still the second-highest in track history.

The track released data after the conclusion of the 43-day meeting Wednesday.

Last year's all-sources handle was a record $608 million. The 2004 meeting had total handle of $580 million.

The average all-sources daily handle on Del Mar races for 2006 was $13,548,941. The average ontrack handle fell 4.9 percent, to $2,409,223. Average ontrack attendance was 16,658, a drop of 2 percent from last year.

"Attendance was a hair off a successful meeting," said Del Mar's president, Joe Harper. "I'm pleased with the numbers, especially when I look around the country and see what other people have done."

The final averages are a slight improvement from those at the midway point of the meeting, when average ontrack attendance was down 4.5 percent, and all-sources handle was down 6 percent.

Jockey Victor Espinoza and trainer Doug O'Neill led their respective categories, extending already successful years.

Espinoza won 64 races, the highest since Kent Desormeaux rode 67 winners in 1993. By far the highlight of the meeting for Espinoza was winning seven races on Labor Day, establishing a track record for most wins in a day.

Espinoza, 34, has won three riding titles at Del Mar, including the 2005 meeting. He has been the dominant rider in Southern California since the spring, also winning the riding title at the Hollywood Park spring-summer meeting.

O'Neill, 38, won his second Del Mar training title, finishing with 19 winners. Jeff Mullins, who led the standings in 2005, finished second with 16. O'Neill won the 2004 title with 28 winners.

O'Neill's most important win of the meeting came with Lava Man in the $1 million Pacific Classic on Aug. 20. Lava Man became the first horse to sweep the Santa Anita Handicap, Hollywood Gold Cup, and Pacific Classic in the same year. Lava Man was voted horse of the meeting.

"With Lava Man's performance, we feel like we're on cloud nine," O'Neill said.

The meeting was not without sadness for O'Neill. His stable had two horses euthanized because of injuries suffered during races. Overall, 18 horses were euthanized as a result of injuries sustained in racing or training, a trend that overshadowed the early weeks of the meeting.

Lock and Key, who finished second in the Las Cienegas Handicap in April, suffered a severe leg injury during a turf workout on Wednesday morning and was euthanized, according to trainer Ben Cecil.

Harper said that Del Mar intends to install a synthetic surface, probably Polytrack, in January, pending approval from the California Coastal Commission, a state environmental agency.