08/02/2005 11:00PM

Meet is on pace for record handle

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Beau Soleil scores at Del Mar on Sunday for trainer Jeff Mullins. He was claimed out of the race for $62,500 by trainer Ted H. West and Jeffrey Sengara, and might run next at Emerald.

DEL MAR, Calif. - Del Mar is on pace for a record mutuel handle this summer.

Through Monday, the 12th day of the 43-day meeting, all-sources handle had increased 4.5 percent, handle from simulcast locations in California was up 5 percent, and ontrack handle had improved 4 percent, according to chief financial officer Mike Ernst.

"The wagering side of the business has been extremely strong," Ernst said. "We were thinking we would be up 1 or 2 percent. Field sizes have been real strong. Through two weeks, we're very pleased."

Last year, Del Mar had a record average all-sources handle of $13,497,260.

Last Saturday was a particularly strong day. Del Mar had a record nationwide handle of $8,630,902. The all-sources handle of $20,090,074 was the seventh-highest in track history.

Ontrack attendance is down about 2 percent, but Ernst said that is not a surprise considering competition from a local music event last weekend - Street Scene - and a promotion schedule that focuses on the second half of the meeting.

"In our projections, that was what we expected," Ernst said of the decline. "We were up against Street Scene last weekend. That's such big competition for us. We're off a couple of percent in ontrack attendance, but we're on our projections."

Last year, the track had average daily attendance of 17,052.

The increase in handle could lead to a retroactive purse increase for the third consecutive year. In 2003, Del Mar made a retroactive payment of $500,959 to owners who won purses at the meeting. The figure rose to $1 million last year.

"Certainly if we keep going at this level, horsemen could get a prize at the end of the year," Ernst said. "A lot of things could change, but purses look good."

Claiming action heats up

Among horsemen, interest in acquiring horses through claims has reached a frenzied pace.

Through Monday, claims have been submitted for 110 horses, an average of nine a day. The figure is on pace to surpass the 292 claims submitted during the 2004 meeting, when $7,847,000 was spent on claims. Those claims resulted in sales tax revenue of $608,142.

Trainers say their phones are ringing with clients yearning to get involved at Del Mar.

"In my experience, the owners put more pressure on me to claim because they want action," trainer Ted H. West said. "They want to get their picture taken and go out to dinner. They don't do that at Hollywood Park or Santa Anita."

Horses claimed early at Del Mar can return to run one or two times during the meeting. Sometimes, those owners are so eager for a win that they will allow a horse to be substantially dropped in claiming price.

"They will say, 'I just want them to win,' " West said. "Which is pretty amazing. But I don't have many of those guys right now.

"I'm looking every day. I've got five or six people that want me to claim."

West said his stable can be depleted by claims from rival trainers at the end of the meeting.

"I always lose on the claiming ratio," he said. "I lose more than I'm able to claim. I would love to be even at the end of the meeting, but I won't.

"I'm surprised they didn't claim more at Hollywood Park before Del Mar, but the pickings are slim there."

Sunday, West and owner Jeffrey Sengara spent $62,500 to claim the ninth race's winner, Beau Soleil, from trainer Jeff Mullins. The race was Beau Soleil's first start since a win in the Tiznow Stakes in April 2004.

"I would like to take credit, but Jeffrey wanted to roll the dice," West said.

Beau Soleil is being considered for the $250,000 Longacres Mile at Emerald Downs on Aug. 21.

Mullins, who led the standings with eight wins through Monday, lost one horse and acquired another through claims on Monday. On behalf of horse owner Bob Bone, Mullins claimed Resident Alien, the winner of a $40,000 maiden claimer for sprinters. Bone and Mullins lost sixth-race runner-up Bonus Pack for $50,000 to a partnership and trainer Bill Spawr.

Mullins said Bone is a very active owner who suggests potential claims for Mullins to inspect.

"Bob watches the replays and looks at the numbers," Mullins said. "He does most of the work. I just look at the horses."

Toward the end of Del Mar, Mullins projects that Bone will not curtail his activity just because the next meeting is the less glamourous Los Angeles County Fair in Pomona.

Said Mullins, "Bob loves Pomona, too."

Fewer obstacles for Hollywood Story

Since winning the Hawthorne Handicap at Hollywood Park in May, Hollywood Story's reputation has been battered by two losses in major stakes.

She finished second to Andujar in the Grade 1 Milady Breeders' Cup Handicap in June and was only fifth behind Splendid Blended in the Vanity Handicap last month.

Neither of those two fillies will start in Sunday's $300,000 Clement Hirsch Handicap at Del Mar, leaving trainer John Shirreffs optimistic that Hollywood Story can win the fourth stakes of her career.

"It's a good spot," Shirreffs said.

Owned by George Krikorian, Hollywood Story is one of six probable starters in the Grade 2 Clement Hirsch, run at 1 1/16 miles. The field is expected to include Alphabet Kisses, Santa Candida, Star Parade, Tucked Away, and Valentine Dancer.

Star Parade, fourth in the 2004 Clement Hirsch, breezed five furlongs in 58.60 seconds on Wednesday, the fastest of 60 recorded works at the distance.

Hollywood Story was beaten four lengths by Splendid Blended in the Vanity. Jockey Victor Espinoza urged Hollywood Story on the turn but got little response.

"You always want the horse to take the rider into the spot, but he had to ask her," Shirreffs said. "She's always a trier."

Despite the recent losses, Shirreffs pointed out that Hollywood Story won her first race in the Hollywood Starlet Stakes in December 2003, the fifth start of her career and her fourth stakes appearance.

"She ran in tough races before she broke her maiden, and she always comes back and runs her race," he said.

* Surf Cat, who won the Swaps Stakes at Hollywood Park on July 9, worked a mile in 1:41.20 on Wednesday. Trained by Bruce Headley, Surf Cat will make his next start in the $1 million Pacific Classic on Aug. 21.