04/25/2005 12:00AM

Valenzuela forced to miss big weekend


INGLEWOOD, Calif. - Jockey Patrick Valenzuela, who suffered a bruised knee in a starting-gate accident last Friday, is hoping to resume riding on Wednesday, according to his agent, Ron Ebanks.

Valenzuela, who led the standings at Santa Anita earlier this year, suffered a bruised right knee when he was unseated from Nemo's Lucky Fin at the start of the fourth race. Valenzuela underwent X-rays at a local hospital on Friday night, missed a scheduled trip to Keeneland to ride Sort It Out in the Lexington Stakes on Saturday, and missed 10 rides in Sunday's California Gold Rush program at Hollywood Park.

"If we could have hand-picked three or four, he would have been there," Ebanks said of Valenzuela's participation at Hollywood Park. "He wanted to ride. He said, 'Let me go in.' But I thought it was a bad idea. He's not in shape to ride a 10-race card.

"He's still in too much pain to ride. His knee is bruised right at the point he bends it."

Valenzuela was scheduled to see a specialist on Monday, Ebanks said. Valenzuela has four mounts on Wednesday's eight-race card at Hollywood Park.

"We were told the X-rays were clean," Ebanks said. "If the pain subsides, he might be able to ride. If we're worse off than we think, we'll take a week off."

Valenzuela, 42, finished the Santa Anita meeting with 69 wins despite missing the first three weeks of the meeting because of legal wrangling over a suspension. He won both riding titles at Hollywood Park - the spring-summer and fall meetings - in 2003, the last full year he rode without suspension.

Friday opener boosts business

Hollywood Park's decision to open on a Friday for the first time since 2001 led to increases in attendance and handle over the three-day weekend. From 2002 to 2004, the track opened its spring-summer meeting on a Wednesday before modest crowds.

Friday's ontrack crowd was 21,789. In 2001, a Friday night opener drew 23,609.

Some fans complained about long lines at beer stands and betting windows Friday, acknowledged track president Rick Baedeker.

"You can't have enough," said Baedeker. "You go to any big sporting event and you will stand in lines."

The three-day weekend produced business figures higher than the corresponding days last year. Ontrack attendance was up 6.6 percent over last year, while ontrack handle was up 6.1 percent. Handle from all sources was up 3.1 percent.

Baedeker said all-sources handle was affected by the absence of 28 simulcast locations across the country. He said those locations are in dispute with Hollywood Park's parent company, Churchill Downs Inc., over simulcast rates.

Figures for Sunday's program were down from last year. In 2004, Gold Rush Day was held on a Saturday before a crowd of 14,108. This year's ontrack crowd reached only 13,012. The all-sources handle of $15,821,393 was down 7.6 percent.

Track might not replace McDaniel

Santa Anita has not decided whether it will replace former president Jack McDaniel or reassign duties to existing employees, according to Ron Charles, the executive director of parent company Magna Entertainment's California tracks.

Magna announced McDaniel's departure on Saturday. According to the statement, McDaniel "stepped down" on Friday. He had held the position since January 2004.

McDaniel was the fourth president of Santa Anita since Frank Stronach acquired the track in late 1998. He was preceded by Bill Baker, Lonny Powell, and Jack Liebau.

Charles said he will serve as interim president until the company's management structure is determined.

"I think we'll re-evaluate the entire situation and see what makes the most sense," Charles said.

Market Garden dies after B. Thoughtful

Market Garden, who finished seventh in the B. Thoughtful Stakes on Sunday, collapsed and died while being walked back to the stables, according to state veterinarian B. William Bell and track stewards.

Market Garden, a winner of 6 of 35 starts and $363,958, won the Pio Pico Stakes at Fairplex Park last September. Owned by Sid and Jenny Craig and trained by Bill Spawr, Market Garden was third in the California Cup Distaff and Monrovia Handicap at Santa Anita last year. She was claimed for $80,000 by the Craigs last July.

Bell said a necropsy would be conducted to determine the cause of death.

Turf course 'passed the test,' official says

The Hollywood Park turf course was well received over the weekend, four months after the track was forced to cancel grass racing on consecutive weekends because of deteriorating conditions.

The course was used three times on Friday and Saturday and twice on Sunday. Two turf races are scheduled for Wednesday.

The course produced fast times over the weekend, but was safe, according to top jockey Alex Solis.

"It's in great shape," he said. "It has a good bounce to it. It's not hard or soft. I know a lot of people were worried after what happened last year. The important thing is the footing is good."

Last fall, the course was not used on the final two Saturdays of the fall meeting after jockeys complained about uneven areas and slow drainage.

Over the winter, the track fixed the uneven portions. Racing secretary Martin Panza said the course suffered from poor drainage last fall when the Bermuda grass went dormant.

The course is scheduled to undergo an extensive renovation after the current meeting ends in July. Panza said the course will be used sparingly during the meet's first month.

"I wouldn't say I'm protecting it, but in another month, when it takes off, I think it will be that much better," Panza said. "I think it's passed the test."

Single ticket hits Saturday's pick six

The lone winning ticket in Saturday's pick six returned $423,765.80 and was purchased through the hub in Lewiston, Maine. The Lewiston hub transmits bets from several wagering services in the Carribbean that have large bettors.

Interest in the pick six was high on Saturday because of a carryover of $103,054 from Friday's opening-day program.

The winner of Saturday's pick six races were Bully Bones ($77.20), Willow O Wisp ($43.80), Molengao ($3.20), Proudest Moment ($5.20), Pickle ($20.80), and Date With Linda ($14.40).

Sunday, Hollywood Park failed to reach its $1 million guaranteed pick six pool; only $930,944 was bet. Baedeker, the track's president, said the simulcast dispute was a major factor.

"We had special circumstances," Baedeker said. "Historically, we have made the million on Gold Rush Day."

* Blind Ambition was scratched from Sunday's Fran's Valentine Stakes after she developed filling in a leg, trainer Marty Jones said. The winner of the 2003 California Cup Distaff, Blind Ambition had been entered for Saturday's Grade 3 Wilshire but did not start.