10/13/2009 12:00AM

Ontrack handle at Oak Tree takes big hit

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Benoit & Associates
Zardana, ridden by Victor Espinoza, takes the Swingtime Stakes at Oak Tree on Monday.

ARCADIA, Calif. - The Oak Tree at Santa Anita meeting showed a modest gain in attendance but a sharp drop in handle through Sunday, the first two weeks of the six-week meeting.

Average ontrack attendance was up 2 percent, according to Oak Tree executive vice-president Sherwood Chillingworth. Average handle figures had fallen 15 percent ontrack, 5 percent through the California intertrack system, 11 percent at out-of-state simulcasting locations, and 6 percent through account wagering systems, he said.

"I just don't think people have the money now," Chillingworth said, referring to the recession that has hit the nation.

There have been attempts to make racing a more low-cost sporting option at this meeting, with $1 promotions on Monday's holiday card and free general admission on Fridays.

"The guys that are most affected by this, you take construction workers, there is no construction going on to speak of," Chillingworth said. "Those are the guys that we're lacking. The big boys are still there."

Business last Saturday, a program that included a win by Zenyatta in the Lady's Secret Stakes and the presence of Kentucky Derby winner Mine That Bird, mirrored the ongoing trend.

The ontrack attendance was 20,329, a gain of 15 percent over 2008, but the all-sources handle on the 10-race program was $12.6 million, down 13 percent from the $14.7 million handle on an 11-race program on the corresponding day last year.

Monday's all-sources handle was particularly sobering, with a nine-race card attracting $4,956,340 in bets.

Chillingworth said he expects the Breeders' Cup races on Nov. 6 and 7 to draw crowds of approximately 30,000 and 50,000.

Splinter group asks for new board

The board of directors of the California Thoroughbred Trainers is expected to meet later this month to consider a change in its bylaws that would permit elections for a new board, an action spurred by a splinter group of horsemen who feel the organization is not doing enough to forward trainers' needs.

The California Horsemen for Change, an organization that describes itself in a press release as "a newly formed group of California trainers concerned with the future of California Thoroughbred racing," met with CTT executives last week and on Monday to discuss their concerns.

The group's interim executive director is Chris Knight, a 27-year-old recent graduate of law at University of California Berkeley. Several trainers who have supported the new group, including Darrell Vienna, Clifford Sise, and Jack Carava, met with CTT president Jim Cassidy and executive director Ed Halpern at Santa Anita on Monday to discuss the new group's concerns.

Knight said the organization's agenda includes discussions with track management about the circuit's synthetic tracks, purse negotiations, problems with offtrack stabling, and ways to better promote the sport.

The CTT is the state's official representative for trainers but does not have the power to negotiate with racetracks on issues such as purses. Such rights are held by the Thoroughbred Owners of California, the official organization of owners in the state. There are a small number of trainers on the TOC's board of directors.

Knight said that by requesting a new board of directors the group hopes to "energize members" of the CTT to improve racing. Cassidy on Monday said he was not sure when his board of directors would meet to discuss a potential change in bylaws. If a change in bylaws occurs, Cassidy said he would like to hold a general meeting to discuss a variety of views.

"It's one step at a time," Cassidy said.

The CTT board of directors serve on staggered terms, with some of the nine seats becoming available each summer.

Stalking experiment works out for Zardana

For months, trainer John Shirreffs and his staff have tried to instill patience in Zardana, a quick 5-year-old. A switch to jockey Victor Espinoza helped accomplish that in a little more than 90 seconds in Monday's $64,100 Swingtime Stakes.

Zardana, a Brazilian-bred mare who led throughout her two previous wins in the United States, stalked pacesetter Bahama Mama to early stretch and held off a late threat from General Consensus to win the Swingtime by three-quarters of a length in 1:34.87. She paid $5.80.

"Victor rode her perfectly," owner Arnold Zetcher said. "He got her to settle down."

Zetcher said Zardana is a candidate for the $200,000 Las Palmas Handicap over a mile on turf Nov. 6, which is on the undercard of the first day of the Breeders' Cup program.

Zetcher could have a big Breeders' Cup weekend. He has Pacific Classic winner Richard's Kid as a contender for the $5 million Breeders' Cup Classic on Nov. 7.

Free Flying Soul won her first stakes in Monday's $70,810 Louis Rowan Stakes, but the win did not give trainer Bruce Headley an incentive to try a stakes such as the Breeders' Cup Filly and Mare Sprint on Nov. 6.

"I'm not taking a big step, just the next step," Headley said.

Free Flying Soul ($5.40) stalked pacesetter Oilgonewile for the first half-mile, took the lead from stablemate Supermodel in midstretch, and won by two lengths over Golden Doc A, finishing 6 1/2 furlongs in 1:15.26.

Owned by Marsha Naify, Free Flying Soul has won 3 of 7 starts and $115,626.

Gallant Gent eyeing BC juvenile races

Gallant Gent, third in the Grade 1 Norfolk Stakes here Oct. 4, will be pre-entered in the Breeders' Cup Juvenile and Juvenile Turf, trainer Craig Lewis said.

Owned by the partnership of Six-S Racing Stable, Robert Miller, Joe Valenti, and Nick Petralia, Gallant Gent was beaten 2 1/4 lengths by Lookin at Lucky in the Norfolk, over 1 1/16 miles on the main track.

"In retrospect, he ran better than I thought at the time," Lewis said. "Speed has not been asset on this track, and he was pretty close."

Lookin at Lucky is the early favorite for the Juvenile.

Gallant Gent has won 3 of 5 starts and $107,400. Claimed for $40,000 in his debut at Hollywood Park in July, he won the C.B. Afflerbaugh Stakes at Fairplex Park last month.