05/30/2012 2:50PM

Hastings: Ontrack handle up 24 percent a sign racing's popularity on the rise

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VANCOUVER, British Columbia – Management at Hastings is hoping the positive trend at the current meet will continue with the first evening card this Friday. Post time for the seven races scheduled is 7:15 p.m. Pacific. There are 11 Fridays scheduled through Aug. 17.

The total live mutuel handle is up by 17 percent this year but what has Hastings general manager Raj Mutti excited is the increase in ontrack wagering. Hastings doesn’t keep attendance figures but clearly a lot more people have been showing up for live racing this year and the numbers show it. The live ontrack mutuel handle is up by 24 percent.

One of the reasons for the increase is due to former local jockey Mario Gutierrez. Following his win aboard I’ll Have Another in the Kentucky Derby, the local media discovered there was horse racing at Hastings and the free publicity generated has been unprecedented. The largest crowd in years is expected for the Belmont on June 9.

The handle was already headed in the right direction before the Derby, though.

“We have aggressively been marketing a younger demographic and it is starting to pay off,” said Mutti. “It really started a few years ago with our Friday Night Live promotions. Young people started coming out and now they are coming back on Saturday and Sunday.”

Mutti said he is anticipating a large turnout Friday.

“All the boxes and tables in Silks are sold out,” said Mutti.

Silks is the terraced restaurant at Hastings that seats 600 people.

The average field size of 7.69 horses per race has also helped boost the handle. Last year through June 1 the average was 7.20.

Beware of Senor Rojo

Senor Rojo could be the sleeper in Sunday’s $50,000 Sir Winston Churchill. Trained by Dave Forster, Senor Rojo was completely overlooked in the 6 1/2-furlong John Longden at 40-1 and he made a late move to finish third behind Taylor Said and St. Liams Halo, who are owned by Glen Todd and will also be running in the Churchill. They are trained by Troy Taylor.

Senor Rojo could be coming up to a big race, though, and he will certainly appreciate the added yardage. He won the Churchill in 2010 when it was held in September at 1 1/8 miles. Last year he ran a similar race in the Longden, making a late move to finish fourth, and then won a 1 1/16-mile allowance race in his next start. His best distance might be 1 3/8 miles. He won the Grade 3 Premiers in 2010 and last year he shipped to Northlands Park and won the $75,000 Speed to Spare on Canadian Derby Day Aug. 20. The Speed to Spare is worth $100,000 this year but has been moved to Sept. 29, which conflicts with the Grade 3 Premiers at Hastings on Oct. 8.

“He has won sprinting so I won’t say he can’t sprint but anything over a mile is his best distance,” said Forster, who isn’t looking past the Churchill. “I am certainly aware of the Speed to Spare but I haven’t really looked that far ahead. That is a long way from now and I’ve been in this business long enough to know a lot of things can happen between now and then.”

Forster is looking forward to Sunday, though. Senor Rojo has worked twice since the Longden and he was very impressive when he worked a bullet five furlongs in 58.80 seconds May 20.

“He is doing very well right now,” said Forster. “He is feeling so good I made a bet with Todd that I would beat him.”

Mysterious Soul tries longer in River Rock

Trainer Barbara Heads would rather run Mysterious Soul in a first-level allowance race than in the $50,000 River Rock Casino for 3-year-olds Saturday. Mysterious Soul figures to be a decent price when he stretches out to 1 1/16 miles for the first time in the River Rock.

Mysterious Soul came from out of the clouds to win a 6 1/2-furlong optional $30,000 maiden claiming race in his debut April 14 and then finished a fast-closing fourth in the $50,000 Jim Coleman Province on May 5.

“We have nowhere to go with him because allowance races aren’t filling, especially ones going long,” said Heads. “He sure acts like he wants to go long. He didn’t have the best trip in the Coleman and still finished fourth. I think he’ll be okay as long as there is a pace for him to run at.”

Mysterious Soul will have a new rider Saturday. Richard Hamel, who is done for the year due to problems with his knees, rode Mysterious Soul in his first two starts. Inoel Beato will pick up the mount.