11/01/2010 3:09PM

Oak Tree meet averages $7.2M in daily handle

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INGLEWOOD, Calif. – The Oak Tree Racing Association ended its first race meeting at Hollywood Park on Sunday, the conclusion of a tumultuous six months for the organization.

According to a statement released by Oak Tree, the all-sources average daily handle, including simulcast and account wagering, was $7,198,000.

Daily average attendance combining the ontrack audience at Hollywood Park and at simulcast locations through the Southern California was 10,771, according to Oak Tree.

Detailed business figures were not published by Oak Tree, and no direct comparisons can be made to previous Oak Tree meetings, which were run across town at Santa Anita.

The last two meetings at Hollywood Park, the spring-summer meeting this year and the fall meeting last year, had an average all-sources daily handle of $9,474,780 and $8,362,068, respectively.

Last year’s Oak Tree meeting at Santa Anita had an average all-sources daily handle of $10,539,306 which was boosted by the running of the Breeders’ Cup,

Oak Tree officials were forced to scramble to ensure the 2010 meeting went forward.

In May, Oak Tree was informed by Santa Anita that its lease for a 2010 meeting had been voided, ending a leaseholder-tenant relationship that began in 1969. A month later, Oak Tree was invited back to Santa Anita for this fall after Santa Anita’s chairman, Frank Stronach, reversed course at a California Horse Racing Board meeting.

But in August, the Thoroughbred Owners of California and California Thoroughbred Trainers told the racing board they would not support an Oak Tree at Santa Anita meeting this year, expressing concern over the condition of Santa Anita’s Pro-Ride synthetic track.

Without horsemen’s support, the racing board did not approved Oak Tree’s license to race at Santa Anita, setting off a rapid chain of events that led to the first Oak Tree at Hollywood Park meeting, which began on Sept. 30.

“I think the meeting went as well as it could have for such short notice,” Oak Tree executive vice-president Sherwood Chillingworth said on Sunday.

The highlight of the 22-day Oak Tree at Hollywood Park meeting was the Oct. 2 program in which Zenyatta extended her winning streak to 19 races with her third consecutive win in the Grade 1 Lady’s Secret Stakes. The attraction of Zenyatta drew an ontrack crowd of 25,837, the largest crowd at Hollywood Park since July 2001. Zenyatta was voted Horse of the Meeting in a media poll.

There were setbacks during the five-week meeting. The Wednesday, Oct. 6 program was lost to a flash rainstorm, and made up on Wednesday, Oct. 27, one of two days in which ontrack attendance was less than 2,000 and one of five days in which ontrack handle was less than $500,000, according to information released by the track.

The meeting ends with questions as to where the Oak Tree meet will be run in the future.

During the summer, Oak Tree and Hollywood Park announced that Hollywood Park would host a 2011 Oak Tree meeting. Both Oak Tree and Santa Anita have asked the racing board for autumn racing dates in 2011, but the board has yet to make a decision on which group will get the dates.

“That’s the next problem,” Chillingworth said.

Oak Tree officials have discussed a long-term move to Del Mar for 2012 and beyond, but nothing has been solidified.

Sunday, Chillingworth was looking toward a return to Hollywood Park in 2011. “I think we can do it,” Chillingworth said. “With more time to prepare, we can do a better job of marketing.”

Bob Baffert won the training title with 11 wins, clinching the award with Tweebster’s win in a maiden race in Sunday’s ninth and final race. For Baffert, it was his first training title since the 2009 Oak Tree meeting. Baffert finished one winner ahead of Doug O’Neill and John Sadler

Jockey Rafael Bejarano won his second riding title of the year, finishing with 35 wins, one more than Joel Rosario. The two jockeys have dominated the standings at major meetings in Southern California this year. Bejarano won the title at the Santa Anita winter-spring meeting, while Rosario won the Hollywood Park spring-summer and Del Mar meetings.