07/20/2003 11:00PM

P Val remains dominant


INGLEWOOD, Calif. - Patrick Valenzuela continued his dominance in Southern California at Hollywood Park this summer, winning his fourth riding title since he returned to racing from a suspension in late 2001.

Valenzuela, 40, finished the meeting with 81 winners, 12 clear of Victor Espinoza. Alex Solis was third with 48 wins.

Earlier this year, Valenzuela won the title at the winter-spring meeting at Santa Anita. Last year, he won titles at the Hollywood Park spring-summer meeting and at Del Mar in his first full season of riding since he missed 22 months because of a suspension for substance abuse.

"I would have been happy with 60 or 70 wins," Valenzuela said. "Competing on a daily basis is a thrill."

Espinoza edged Valenzuela in stakes wins, 9-8, but Valenzuela expects to improve in that category at Del Mar.

"We're getting there little by little," he said. "The overall picture is very good."

Trainer Doug O'Neill won his first training title at a Hollywood Park spring-summer meeting, and his third title on the circuit in the last year. O'Neill finished with 37 winners, the most since Laz Barrera won the same number in 1979. Bob Baffert and Mike Mitchell tied for second with 20 wins.

In 2002, O'Neill won titles at Fairplex Park and the Hollywood Park fall meeting.

Azeri was voted horse of the meeting. The reigning Horse of the Year, Azeri won the Milady and Vanity handicaps for the second consecutive year to stretch her winning streak to 10.

The 65-day meeting incurred losses in major business categories. The ontrack average attendance fell 7 percent, to 8,498. The ontrack average handle fell 6 percent, to $1,852,821. The only growth came in account wagering handle, which grew 43 percent to a daily average of $504,954. The overall average handle, including state-wide and interstate sources, fell fractionally to $10,593,556.

Track president Rick Baedeker said the presence of casinos operated by Native Americans in Southern California was having an effect on ontrack business. "If we don't think that is costing us, we're kidding ourselves," he said.