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Handle Up Despite Fall in Attendance

Los Alamitos continues to go in opposite directions. While average nightly handle is up 10% after 55 nights of racing and on pace to become the third largest of any meet in track history, attendance is down 6% and revenue from out-of-state simulcasts is down 10%. Those figures mirror a trend that began in the mid-1990s, although the track has actually increased the number of horses running in most races by increasing purses to attract more out-of-state horse owners.

The average nightly handle of $1,166,615 is up more than $100,000 a night. But attendance has slipped to an average of 1,911 per night, while the out-of-state simulcast handle is averaging $195,979. The on-track handle, however, has increased 8.7% over last year to $329,651.

Los Alamitos President and General Manager H. Rick Henson credited recent state legislation, which allowed Los Alamitos to increase the number of races it could show via simulcast as a big factor in the upsurge in revenue. But he said attendance has lagged for a number of reasons, including a declining number of races to import for satellite wagering.

“Hollywood Park ran an abbreviated Friday night program,” Henson said. “This drastically affects our attendance when you don’t have thoroughbreds running at night for wagering purposes.”

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Showing races from Australia, a popular late-night wagering tool, have been curtailed by recent legislation that favors showing thoroughbred races from U.S. tracks.

Henson said he believes there’s still a chance to set a record for on-track handle during the 140-day meet because the track will host several major stakes races, beginning in the fall.

The track’s best performance was in 1996, when the average nightly handle was $1,198,790 in 142 days.

SLOWING DOWN

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Until last season, Blane Schvaneveldt dominated the trainer standings, winning 36 of the last 40 titles.

But Paul Jones unseated Schvaneveldt in 1998 by a convincing margin.

That’s OK by Schvaneveldt, 65, who said he wants to slow down and rethink his racing priorities.

In past seasons he has struggled in major stakes races but stocked his barn with lots of claimers and longshots that produced enough wins to keep him atop the standings.

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“You can’t retire from this business,” he said. “But I don’t have the horses we used to have. I don’t really care any more. I’d rather have better horses and not so many of them.”

That change in philosophy is reflected in the American Quarter Horse Racing Challenge Series national standings for trainers, in which Schvaneveldt is tied for 10th place.

On Saturday, Schvaneveldt sends out Remarkably Ritzy as a long-shot in the $410,000 Ed Burke Futurity.

In that race, all eyes will be on Natovas Princess. Trained by Danny Cordoza, Natovas Princess lost her qualifying heat to Flyby Alibi, which had posted the best qualifying time. But Natovas Princess posted the sixth-best time of the 10 qualifiers to remain eligible for the $1-million bonus known as the Los Alamitos Bonanza. It’s offered by track owner Edward C. Allred to any horse that wins the Kindergarten Futurity, Ed Burke Futurity and Los Alamitos Million Futurity. Natovas Princess won the Kindergarten Futurity on May 21.

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Schvaneveldt, however, says he likes the chances of Corona Kool, trained by Donna McArthur or Separatist, trained by John Cooper. Corona Kool posted the second-best qualifying time. Separatist had the fifth-best time.

“But it’s a wide-open event. Anyone can win,” he said.

CLOSING POINTS

Del Mar has renamed its Paddock Sports Pub in honor of Charlie Whittingham, the Hall of Fame trainer who died this year at the age of 86. The pub is stocked with memorabilia from Whittingham’s 65 years in the business. He was present in 1937 when Del Mar offered its first racing card. . .The Jens L. List Jr. farm, a stalwart at Los Alamitos, leads the breeders standings in the AQHA Horse Racing Challenge after 23 of the 45 events. The List farm has scored big so far with Tailor Fit, currently ranked atop the AQHA Racing Poll . . . Los Alamitos had a rare dead heat July 15 when longshot Dash For Kay caught the Schvaneveldt-trained favorite Royal Miss Smith at the finish line in the 350-yard, $15,000 Blushing By Handicap. . .Jones reports that the gelding A Supernova, a top older quarter horse, died this month after contracting colic.

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