Overall daily average handle for the 78-day Santa Anita meeting declined 11% as its 75th winter-spring stand came to an end on April 18, the Arcadia track reported.
On-track attendance was down 6%, while on-track daily handle dipped 15%, the track reported. Southern California Off Track Wagering Incorporated (SCOTWINC) average daily handle was down 8% as well, while out-of-state average daily handle slipped 13%.
However, Santa Anita maintained its position as America’s top winter racing venue in terms of all source handle, on-track handle and on-track attendance.
“We knew in December that we would be facing significant challenges,” said Ron Charles, Santa Anita's president. “The bad economy, especially here in California, is an obvious reason for some of the declines, but we also must acknowledge that the problems we continue to have with drainage on the main track and a reduced horse inventory definitely contributed as well.”
Santa Anita experienced periods of heavy rain in January and February and its Pro-Ride synthetic main track failed to drain effectively. As a result, the track had to cancel five days of racing, including two Saturdays, one of which was Strub Stakes Day, Feb. 6.
“What hurt us just as much as the actual cancellations was the uncertainty as to whether or not we’d be able to run,” said Charles. “The main track performed very well overall. We had an extraordinarily safe meet and that is our number one priority.”
Santa Anita’s field-size averaged 8.2 horses per race last year and this meet it fell to 7.8.
“We were pleased to be able to maintain our regular five-day week, with the exception of the weather-related cancellations, despite the fact we had fewer horses,” said Charles.
The meeting ended on a high note April 18 as a crowd of 17,345 attended on-track and witnessed an exhilarating running of the prestigious San Juan Capistrano Handicap (gr. IIT), which was won by Bourbon Bay and leading jockey Rafael Bejarano.
“It was great to finish up like we did today,” said Charles. “The San Juan Capistrano was a great way for us to go out and despite the fact we faced a number of issues over the course of the meet, it went very quickly.”
Highlights included two appearances of the great race mare Zenyatta. She was paraded in front of a crowd of 35,292 on opening day. Then on March 13, the John Shirreffs trainee won the Santa Margarita Handicap (gr. I) in dramatic fashion under Mike Smith.
The John Sadler-conditioned Sidney's Candy dominated the 3-year-old stakes program, winning the seven-furlong San Vicente (gr. II) on Feb. 15, the 1 1/16-mile San Felipe (gr. II) on March 13 and the 1 1/8-mile Santa Anita Derby (gr. I) on April 3. Derby day attracted an on-track crowd of 40,718, which was the third-largest crowd in North America so far this year.
The Santa Anita Handicap (gr. I) on March 6 was impacted by rain, but still attracted an on-track crowd of 23,829. The Big ’Cap was won by the Bob Baffert-trained Misremembered , who was ridden by Martin Garcia.
In the jockeys’ race, Peruvian native Bejarano took his third consecutive riding title at Santa Anita, outdistancing Joel Rosario by a 94-73 margin.
Sadler won the Santa Anita training title, winning 43 races to finish two clear of Baffert. Sadler now has won consecutive titles.
Ron Valenta’s La Canada Stables led all owners with 14 wins.
Live racing will resume at Santa Anita on Sept. 29, with opening day of the Oak Tree meeting. Santa Anita will be open for simulcasting in the interim, beginning with opening day of the 60-day Hollywood Park meet on April 21.