04/19/2005 11:00PM

Rainfall dampened handle


ARCADIA, Calif. - A rain-soaked 2004-05 Santa Anita winter-spring meeting ended on Monday with a drop of 3 percent in all-sources handle from the 2003-04 meeting.

Ontrack attendance dropped 9 percent from the previous meeting to an average of 8,062 per day. Daily average ontrack handle was off 8 percent, to $2.1 million. The all-sources average handle was $10.8 million.

On the racetrack, trainer Doug O'Neill set a record with 54 victories at the meeting, while jockey Patrick Valenzuela led all riders with 69 wins despite missing the first three weeks after returning from a lengthy suspension.

Approximately 45 inches of rain fell during the 85-day meeting, which began on Dec. 26. There were 28 days with an off track; one program, Jan. 9, was canceled after one race. There were five days with an off track in 2003-04.

Santa Anita did not release business figures for advance-deposit wagering, or account betting, which is conducted primarily through the XpressBet system of the track's parent company, Magna Entertainment Corp.

Ron Charles, the executive director of Magna Entertain-ment's California tracks, said attendance and handle at Santa Anita increased 2 to 3 percent after March 3 when the weather brightened.

O'Neill shattered the previous mark of 47 victories shared by Gary Jones and Bob Baffert, scoring his 48th win on March 27. O'Neill, who has more than 100 horses in training, won 10 stakes.

"I thought we were very happy with the way the results came in," O'Neill said. "We're trying to stay consistent. The one thing you think about when you have the kind of numbers that we stack up with, you want to be in the top five for every meet. As far as records, you never prepare for that. It was an awesome and happy surprise."

O'Neill was followed by Jeff Mullins with 32 victories and Bob Baffert with 25.

Valenzuela finished nine wins clear of Tyler Baze and Rene Douglas, who tied for second with 60 each.

Valenzuela began riding on Jan. 15, cracked the top 10 on Jan. 26, made the top five on Feb. 9, and tied Baze for the lead on April 7. It was Valenzuela's first riding title since the fall meeting at Hollywood Park in 2003. His 2004 season was marred by suspensions.