09/08/2004 11:00PM

Record handle at Del Mar

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DEL MAR, Calif. - The Del Mar meeting ended Wednesday with a record for total handle and an increase in ontrack attendance.

Total handle was $579,727,110, with a daily average of $13,482,026, an increase of 1.5 percent from a similar 43-day meet last year. The ontrack average handle was $2,377,744, a decline of less than 1 percent.

The average ontrack attendance was 17,052, an increase of 1 percent over last year's average of 16,881 and the highest since intertrack wagering begain in Southern California in 1987.

"The attendance was against our best year ever, which is nice," said track president Joe Harper. "I thought it'd be down a little."

The average offtrack attendance at satellite locations in the state fell 7.9 percent, to 11,617, but increases were recorded in advance-deposit wagering through the Internet and by telephone. Those figures were not released Wednesday.

Track officials said last weekend that there will be a 4 percent retroactive purse increase that will be paid later this year to owners whose horses earned purses in overnight races.

Trainer Doug O'Neill ended the Del Mar domination of rival Bob Baffert and the recent success of Jeff Mullins by winning his first title at Del Mar.

Jockey Corey Nakatani won the riding title, his first title in more than four years and first at Del Mar since 1998.

O'Neill became the first trainer other than Baffert to win the training title at Del Mar since Mike Mitchell won in 1996. O'Neill finished with 28 wins, four more than Mullins and 11 more than Baffert. Mullins had won the last three training titles on the circuit, at the Hollywood fall, Santa Anita winter-spring, and Hollywood summer meetings.

"This is incredible," O'Neill said late Wednesday. "I guess we had high expectations, but we had clients who said, 'Place them aggressively.' "

O'Neill said that the win by Supah Blitz in the Del Mar Breeders' Cup Handicap last Sunday was his highlight of the meeting. Supah Blitz was bought privately in late August.

Nakatani finished with 54 wins, two more than Tyler Baze. Nakatani won three races on Wednesday's card to secure his first riding title since the 1999-2000 Santa Anita winter meeting.

Known for his brash attitude, Nakatani said he heeded the advice of some of the trainers he rode for this summer.

"I shut up and rode - and rode hard," Nakatani said. "Baffert kept me focused on the racetrack."

Nakatani nominated Blackdoun, the winner of the Del Mar Derby and two other stakes, as his top mount. Blackdoun was voted horse of the meeting.