Santa Anita Park concluded its 86-day winter/spring meeting Sunday with double-digit gains in on-track attendance and handle.The average on-track attendance at the 2005-06 meet was 9,341, a 15.1% increase over last year's average of 8,113. This year's average attendance was also the highest since account deposit wagering was instituted in 2002.Daily on-track handle was also up significantly. Average on-track wagering was $2,245,531 for an 11% hike from a year ago and the highest average daily handle since 2001. "There was this great feeling all season long that so many people really wanted to be a part of the Santa Anita experience once again," said president Ron Charles. "We're very grateful."On-track handle combined with nationwide simulcasting, ADW, and betting at southern and northern California off-track locations resulted in an increase of 9.3% over 2005. An average of $11.6 million was wagered daily on racing from Santa Anita.Increases were sparked by some massive gains on showcase days. The opening day crowd of 34,590 was the biggest since 1999, generating the largest opening day handle in the 71-year history of Santa Anita Park. A Sunshine Millions Day record crowd of 32,499 turned out on Jan. 28, which was a phenomenal 81% increase from 2005, when inclement weather caused a steep decline in attendance. Attendance at the Arcadia, Calif., track for the March 4 Santa Anita Handicap (gr. I), was 49,443, up 37% from the previous year. It was the biggest Big 'Cap crowd since the 1990. The April 8 Santa Anita Derby (gr.I), attracted a throng of 54,668, the largest since 1984 and a 42% increase from last year. On-track handle was up significantly on each of Santa Anita's marquee afternoons as well.
As a direct result of brisk business, Santa Anita was able to institute two separate 5% purse increases, accounting for average daily purse distribution of more than $450,000, the highest in six years. Additionally, field size averaged 8.5 horses per race, the largest in six years helping to fuel an increase in overall pari-mutuel handle. On the racetrack itself, trainer Doug O'Neill surged late to win 50 races, 10 more than Bob Baffert, who edged O'Neill in stakes wins, 12-11. Jockey Patrick Valenzuela won the riding title with 77 victories, three more than Victor Espinoza.