George Haines

George Haines

Benoit Photography

Fewer Runners Blamed for Santa Anita Declines

Decline in average daily handle caused by low horse inventory.

Santa Anita Park reported its 74th winter/spring meet ended April 17 with daily average ontrack attendance holding steady with the 2010 season, average daily ontrack handle slipping by a slight 3%, and the overall average daily handle down 9%, reflective of a severe decline in offtrack handle for the entire meet. No specific dollar amounts were released by the track.

The declining horse inventory in California impacted not only Santa Anita’s business, but the racing schedule as well, said George Haines, Santa Anita’s president.

“Our original intent was to go to a five-day week in March and in April, but we simply didn’t have the inventory to support that at the time,” Haines said. “California’s horse inventory crisis is one of the key factors in Santa Anita’s final numbers. Our field-size, which is very important to our offtrack customers, was impacted by this and thus, our handle. Our fans want full fields and better gambling opportunities. The decline in horse population in the state is a significant problem for all of California racing and could remain so for the foreseeable future.”

Santa Anita’s meet also was likely to have been affected by a boycott of California racing by horseplayers protesting an increase in pari-mutuel takeout rates on exotic wagers that went into effect this year.

The highlight of the meet was Santa Anita Derby (gr. I) day April 9, which produced the meet’s highest single-day figures for attendance, ontrack handle, and total handle. Attendance was 31,523, ontrack handle was $4,039,020, and the total mutuel handle was $15,088,988.

“Our big days continue to prove that Santa Anita is a venue that can produce ontrack events that people want to attend and participate in,” said Haines.

Santa Anita, which had a synthetic main track the previous three years, installed a new all-natural dirt surface in early December.

“We continue to be committed to providing the best possible racing surface in the sport,” said Haines.  “We’ll continue to work with the horsemen in making adjustments to the main track over the spring and summer and we’re confident we’re going to have a safe and consistent surface for everyone to run on here in the fall.”

He added: “We will be consulting with our customers, horsemen and regulators and we’ll come back this fall with policies in place that we hope will work for everyone. Horse racing is an interdependent enterprise and all stakeholders must be well-served in order for the business to thrive. We intend to work tirelessly to that end.”

Hall of Fame trainer Bob Baffert became the first trainer since Jimmy Jones in 1953 to win both the Santa Anita Handicap (gr. I, with Game on Dude) and Santa Anita Derby (with Midnight Interlude) in the same meet. Baffert also notched his record ninth Santa Anita training title, winning 44 races, eight clear of John Sadler.

For the second consecutive year, Ron Valenta’s La Canada Stables was the leading owner by number of wins, and jockey Joel Rosario won his first Santa Anita riding title.