12/23/2002 12:00AM

Meet handle, attendance decline


INGLEWOOD, Calif. - Hollywood Park ended its 35-day autumn meeting on Sunday with across-the-board losses in attendance and handle.

Average attendance was 6,458, a drop of 10.5 percent from a 31-day meeting in 2001. Ontrack handle fell 13.7 percent to $1,444,595. The total average handle was $9,661,600, a drop of 2.5 percent. Total handle comprises betting from all sources, including statewide satellite locations, account deposit wagering, and interstate simulcasting.

Wet weather plagued the start and finish of the meeting. Rain fell on the opening weekend on Nov. 8-10, leaving the track with declines of 24 percent in attendance and 26 percent in ontrack handle after the first week.

"We never regained the momentum we lost," track president Rick Baedeker said. "You're susceptible to these things in a short meeting."

Baedeker said that deposit wagering through TVG accounted for $374,937 in average daily handle. There has been considerable speculation in the last year that deposit wagering through the telephone and Internet would keep customers away from the track, but Baedeker disputed that theory.

"Even if you presume that 100 percent of the decline in ontrack handle is because of TVG, we'll still have a bottom line that is better for purses and commissions," he said.

On the racetrack, jockeys Victor Espinoza and Alex Solis finished the meeting tied for first-place with 34 wins. Espinoza, 30, won his second riding title at an autumn Hollywood meeting. His first came at the 2000 meeting, the year he also won riding titles at the Del Mar and Hollywood Park spring-summer meetings.

Solis, 38, won his second consecutive title at the autumn meeting and the fifth of his career. The tie for the title was his first meet riding crown since the 2001 autumn meeting. Solis missed three days of racing, from Wednesday through Friday last week, to spend time with his family, a break that had been planned several weeks earlier.

Laffit Pincay Jr. led the standings for much of the meeting but missed the final week because of a suspension and finished third with 30 wins.

Trainer Doug O'Neill led all trainers with 16 winners, finishing five winners in front of runner-up Bobby Frankel. The title was the first for O'Neill at a major track. O'Neill, 34, was the leading trainer at the Los Angeles County Fair meeting at Fairplex Park in September.

Dress to Thrill and Good Journey shared the title as horse of the meet. Both made only one start at the meeting. Good Journey successfully defended his title in the $500,000 Citation Handicap on Nov. 30. The following day, Dress to Thrill won the $500,000 Matriarch Stakes for fillies and mares.

In the last weekend of the meeting, two records were set on a main track that played fast in the final week.

On Friday, Hombre Rapido led throughout an optional claimer over 5 1/2 furlongs, finishing in 1:01.67. The time was .33 seconds faster than the old record clocking, shared by three horses, Track Gal and Naughty n Haughty in 1997 and Crescendo in 2001. Trained by John Sadler, Hombre Rapido was making his first start since finishing sixth in the Los Angeles Handicap in June.

On Saturday, Golden Ticket won a starter allowance by 6 1/2 lengths, finishing the 1 3/8 miles in 2:13.42, breaking the track record of 2:14.40 set in 1994 by Lovely One. Third in the 2000 Hollywood Futurity behind Point Given and Millennium Wind, Golden Ticket won his third consecutive race Saturday.