There were flashbacks to the Oct. 25 Breeders' Cup when, on Sunday, trainer Richard Mandella and jockey Alex Solis won the last stakes race of the Oak Tree Racing Assn.'s meet at Santa Anita.
Solis, who won Sunday's $74,150 Avigation Stakes aboard favored Crazy Ensign, also won two Breeders' Cup races at Santa Anita for Mandella. He rode Johar, who dead-heated with High Chaparral in the $2-million Turf, then capped the Breeders' Cup card with an upset win by Pleasantly Perfect in the $4-million Classic.
Mandella, who won two other races to set a Breeders' Cup record, finished with a meet-high seven stakes wins during Oak Tree's 32-day stand. No other trainer had more than two. Doug O'Neill won his first Oak Tree training title with a record-breaking 22 wins.
Pat Valenzuela, despite a suspension-interrupted meet, edged out Tyler Baze, 34-33, for the riding title. Solis finished tied with Victor Espinoza for third place with 27 wins. Valenzuela also won the title at last winter's Santa Anita meet, as well as championships at Hollywood Park and Del Mar, to become the first Southern California jockey since Chris McCarron in 1983 to win the year's first four meet titles. McCarron, now the general manager at Santa Anita, ran the table that year, winning two titles apiece at Santa Anita and Hollywood Park and finishing first at Del Mar.
Valenzuela will be hard-pressed to win a fifth straight title at the Hollywood Park meet that opens Tuesday. He'll miss the meet's first three racing days, as well as the first 13 days of the Santa Anita meet that opens Dec. 26 because of several suspensions that had stacked up while he went through the California Horse Racing Board's appeal process.
Except for a record Breeders' Cup day, Sherwood Chillingworth was disappointed by an Oak Tree meet that resulted in business reverses. "I thought we'd do very well, and that didn't happen," said Chillingworth, executive vice president of the nonprofit group that leases the track in the fall from Santa Anita.
On-track attendance reportedly dipped about 9%. Chillingworth said on-track handle went up 1%, but overall betting suffered because of an off-track decline of an estimated 3%.