Calder Race Course concluded its 32nd Tropical meet on Friday, Jan. 2. Each year, its Tropical meet signals the beginning of the winter racing season in south Florida, while offering 53 days of Thoroughbred horse racing.Average daily on-track attendance for the 2003-04 Tropical at Calder meet was 4,816, representing a 5.4% decrease from the previous year's average of 5,090. Average attendance on dark days when the track offered full card simulcasting was 936, down 6.4% from last year's average of 1,000.Total wagering, including all sources and all days, was $307,981,037, compared to $315,661,359 in 2002-03. The 2003-04 total included one additional day of simulcast-only wagering. Average daily on-track and total combined mutuel handle on Calder racing were both up 2.1% and 0.4%, respectively from the 2002-03 Tropical season. "Though we were down slightly in on-track attendance, the fact that our on-track wagering and total combined handle on our live races were both up is encouraging," said Calder president Ken Dunn. "Our two Grand Slam events once again proved to be successful, with Grand Slam II registering the second highest combined mutuel handle of all time for the Tropical meet and Grand Slam I coming in third on that list."The all time Tropical record for combined mutuel handle on a single day, $9,461,604, was set on Grand Slam II day in 2001.The Calder stakes schedule was worth $2,800,000 and featured longstanding turf fixtures such as the grade II W.L. McKnight and La Prevoyante Handicaps, as well as five other graded stakes. The meet also marked the return of three highly successful racing promotions, Grand Slams I and II and the second annual "Florida Million." The New Year was rung in with renewals of the Grade III Tropical Park Derby and the Tropical Park Oaks on Jan. 1.The race for leading trainer of the Tropical meet was close, but in the end it was Eddie Plesa, Jr. who secured his third title with 21 victories. Tim Ritvo was second with 18 wins, while Angel Salinas finished third with 16.Eddie Castro, who is one of the finalists for the Eclipse Award for apprentice of the year, earned his first leading jockey title in runaway fashion. His 83 wins were just one shy of the all-time single season record for the Tropical meet, set by Cornelio Velasquez last season. Castro lost his apprentice allowance in late December, but still maintained his winning ways to secure the title, 33 victories ahead of Manoel Cruz in second. Eibar Coa was third with 48 wins.Michael Sherman, leading owner of the 2002-03 Tropical meet, successfully defended his title this season by sending out 18 winners, compared to Rose Ramily Stable's 10. Runnin Horse Farms was third with 8 wins.Stand-out stakes winning horses at the meet included Best of the Rest, Sir Oscar, Political Attack, Timo, Volga, Balto Star, and Kitten's Joy, winner of the Tropical Park Derby (gr. III), the first "derby" of the year in the country.