Hurt by its early-season cancellation of 11 racing days, Santa Anita concluded its winter/spring meet April 20 with decreases in overall handle and attendance. But officials were breathing a sigh of relief that it wasn't worse.
After a messy start because of rainy weather and poor drainage for its newly installed synthetic main track, Santa Anita rallied during the second half of the abbreviated 77-day stand and was down just 0.5% on average handle from all sources at about $11.7 million per day. And thanks to a 41% increase in advance deposit wagering over last season, betting on just Santa Anita's races saw a 2.5% increase in daily average (about $9.4 million) over last year.
Santa Anita initially lost six days of racing due to the drainage problem, then closed for five additional days in February while the racing surface was renovated and the drainage system repaired. There were no additional cancellations after that, and the Arcadia track later made up three of the lost days with six-day weeks.
Total all-source handle was off 7%, according to figures provided by the track. Gina Lavo, Santa Anita's chief financial officer, said the total all-source handle declined $71 million, with all but $4 million of that coming as a direct result of the shutdown. In March and April, the track's business was comparable to last year, she said.
ADW averaged more than $1.6 million per day, up solidly from last year's average of $1.1 million. Officials attributed much of the jump to the availability of betting on Santa Anita to all licensed ADW providers in California.
The ADW gains helped offset significant dips in on-track figures. Attendance, which averaged 8,911 in 2007-08, fell by 472 per day over last year, or 5%, and on-track handle was off 13.5%, falling below $2 million per day at $1.85 million.
"Part of that was confusion—because of the track situation early in the meet—as to whether we were running or not," Lavo said.
At the same time, Santa Anita president Ron Charles noted with caution, “Our average daily on-track attendance was down 5 percent from last year and (Southern California satellite facility) attendance was down 24 percent. It was tough to generate momentum early in the meet and because ADW was up 40 percent, it was obvious that ADW was cannibalizing our on-track and (satellite) players, which contributed significantly to these declines."
In-state wagering from satellite facilities declined 9.6% to just below $2.6 million per day, while out-of-state simulcast betting was up a slight 1%.
Charles said that switching from a traditional schedule to a Thursday-Monday slate in 2007-08 "was one of the real bright spots of the meet." He said on-track business on Monday was stronger than expected and that ADW also jumped on that day.
"By the same token, it appears the new schedule did affect the North (Golden Gate Fields and Bay Meadows), so we'll take a look at that and decide later if we want to continue," said Charles, who also serves as Magna Entertainment’s California president of racing. Magna owns both Santa Anita and Golden Gate.
On the strength of his impressive victories in the Sham Stakes (gr. III) and the Santa Anita Derby (gr. I), Colonel John was voted "Horse of the Meet" by the media. Owned by WinStar Farm, he is trained by Eoin Harty.
Rafael Bejarano, despite missing three weeks due to two cracked vertebrae sustained in a spill March 13, came back to claim the riding title with 67 wins, including four on closing day, to break a tie with Garrett Gomez. Mike Mitchell took his second Santa Anita training title with 33 wins, five better than runner-up John Sadler.