Hollywood Park President Rick Baedeker blamed the explosion of the California Indian casino industry for the ongoing drop in attendance and handle during the Inglewood track's 2004 autumn meeting, which ended Dec. 20.
"We're experiencing consistent on-track and inter-track declines in the face of an $8 billion gaming industry that didn't even exist three or four years ago," Baedeker said. "I can't say exactly how much of an effect it has had but it's certainly been significant."
He said racing in the state continues to work with Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger and the legislature to protect the industry from further "erosion of the fan base" brought about by casino gambling.
Attendance took the biggest hit at the just-concluded 36-day meeting. Total attendance, including satellite wagering, averaged 14,064, down by 5.1% from the previous year. The on-track turnstile bottomed out at 6,216 clicks per day, a decline of 4.6% from 2003.
All-source handle ($321,995,649) was down by less than 1% on average ($8.94 million) -- thanks to a surprising 1.3% increase in inter-track volume and a 14% upswing in advance deposit wagering, which averaged $592,528. On-track handle ($47,287,928) was off 2% with an average of $1,313,553 wagered.
Purses averaged $349,717 per day, down 5% from 2003.
Average starters per race were up slightly (1.8%) to 7.53 and would have been even better, said Baedeker "except for the turf course fiasco at the end of the meet," which reduced a number of large fields when grass races were switched to the main track.
A rain flurry in early December left the turf course in questionable condition. Complaints from jockeys caused the cancellation of turf racing on the final two Saturdays of the meeting, as well as the entire final three-day weekend.
"Our guy (track supervisor Dennis Moore), in his opinion, felt it was fit for racing but some of the jockeys disagreed and we had to go along with that," he said. "Ninety percent of the course was fast and firm. But the turf has been slow to completely dry out in past years."
Baedeker said track maintenance would take advantage of a break following the 2005 spring/summer meeting when Hollywood Park will be closed to training to rip out part of the course and repair the drainage.
A rash of fatal injuries to horses --- 10 during races on the main track (compared to five in 2003) and four more during training hours --- will also be addressed during the off-season, he said. Several trainers complained during the meet and Bobby Frankel stopped running horses at Hollywood in early December after losing two to fatal injuries.
But other trainers weren't concerned. Ron Ellis, whose Declan's Moon won the Hollywood Futurity (gr. I) during the final weekend, was pleased with the condition of the main track, and Neil Drysdale debuted his prized $4.5 million colt, Fusaichi Samurai, there on Dec. 11, Baedeker noted.
"We'll peel the track back and see what's underneath," he said. "We all recognize the number of breakdowns. This racetrack has been historically safer than others in California. It hasn't changed in the last couple of years."
The current sandy loam running surface was installed in 1998.
Rene Douglas won his first riding title in Southern California. The 37-year-old jockey is planning to remain at Santa Anita Park during the winter meeting after edging Tyler Baze, 37-35. Doug O'Neill won the training title with 17 victories, three ahead of Bob Baffert. Undefeated Declan's Moon was named the meet's leading horse.