07/17/2005 11:00PM

Hollywood's handle even

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INGLEWOOD, Calif. - Garrett Gomez won his first riding title in nearly seven years and trainer Doug O'Neill continued his dominance in Southern California at the Hollywood Park spring-summer meeting that ended Sunday. The meet was the last under the ownership of Churchill Downs Inc., which sold the track to the Bay Meadows Land Co. earlier this month.

Mutuel handle figures were essentially flat, while ontrack attendance fell. The average daily handle from all sources was $10,422,137, a drop of $34,681 from 2004, or less than half of 1 percent. Average ontrack handle fell 1 percent, to $1,733,156. The only handle category to show growth was advance deposit wagering through the Internet and telephone, which increased 9.2 percent to a record $775,762.

The average ontrack attendance fell 6.6 percent, to 7,801.

Field size fell 3.3 percent to 7.7 starters per race.

Handle could have shown growth had it not been for a mid-meet slump in field size, according to track president Rick Baedeker.

"The last three or four weeks, we were up 6 percent" in handle, Baedeker said. "We finished on a positive note. We had an extended soft cycle in field size. I was really worried midway through."

From a business perspective, the most significant development was the sale of the track in early July. Bay Meadows officials said at the time that racing will be conducted at Hollywood Park for a minimum of three years, and possibly longer if slot-machine legislation is passed in the state.

Gomez, 33, finished with 62 victories, seven more than Alex Solis, who was within three of the lead at one point in the final week.

It was Gomez's first title since the 1998 fall meeting at Hollywood Park. Gomez missed 21 months of racing ending in September 2004 while fighting substance abuse problems.

Gomez took the lead in the jockey standings for good on June 25. Shortly after that, he thought he could win the title.

"I didn't pay that much attention until the last few weeks," he said. "I said, 'This thing is possible.' I'm just enjoying this."

O'Neill finished with 31 victories, 10 more than Mike Mitchell. O'Neill, 37, has won five of the last six training titles in Southern California. He began the streak last summer at Del Mar, and the only interruption was a second-place finish to Mitchell at the Oak Tree at Santa Anita meeting last fall.

O'Neill, who has more than 100 horses in training, expected to win the title, and has the same goal for Del Mar.

"I'm more than comfortable with the self-induced pressure," he said. "We have the numbers and the clients that want to run where they can win. It's a good team right now."

Lava Man, the winner of the Californian and Hollywood Gold Cup and trained by O'Neill, was named horse of the meeting.