04/20/2009 12:00AM

Santa Anita handle down at meet's end


ARCADIA, Calif. - Santa Anita recorded a 1 percent increase in ontrack attendance during the 84-day meeting that ended on Sunday, but handle figures were not as encouraging.

Ontrack handle was down 3 percent, while all-sources handle, including simulcast and account wagering, was down 12 percent, according to information provided by the track. Final business figures could change slightly, pending the compilation of data from nationwide wagering locations.

The declines in handle was no surprise to track officials.

"We knew coming into this meet that we were going to be facing serious challenges due to the economy, both nationally and locally," Santa Anita's president, Ron Charles, said in a statement.

Attendance showed growth because of the track's policy to offer free general admission on Fridays, a day in which some concession prices were knocked down to $1. Attendance on Fridays grew 55 percent over the corresponding days in the 2007-08 meeting. Ontrack handle on those days increased 15 percent.

"When you look at the way this recession is affecting other sports and gambling businesses, it's really gratifying to be able to finish the meet with an increase in ontrack attendance," Charles said.

According to a statement released by the track, the winter-spring meeting was the first in Southern California to show an increase in ontrack attendance since Del Mar in 2007. The largest attendance was on Santa Anita Derby day, April 4, which drew 50,915, the fourth consecutive year the crowd was in excess of 50,000 on the day.

Jockey Rafael Bejarano finished as the leading rider with 99 wins, his sixth consecutive riding title at a major meeting in Southern California. Garrett Gomez, who had the lead in the jockey standings through April 4 but rode at Keeneland through most of the last two weeks, finished second with 86 wins.

Bejarano, 27, won all five riding titles at the major meetings in Southern California in 2008.

John Sadler won the training title, but did not clinch the award until the final day when Oil Man won the seventh race. Sadler finished with 40 wins, one more than Mike Mitchell.

Ron Valenta, who races as La Canada Stables, was recognized as the outstanding owner of the meeting. He had 24 wins.

Pioneerof the Nile, the winner of the Santa Anita Derby, was named horse of the meeting. He is a leading contender for the Kentucky Derby at Churchill Downs on May 2.