Soggy Santa Anita Finally Dries Out

This may not be Santa Anita's soggiest start to a race meet, but you'd have a hard time convincing the track's management that it could get any wetter.

"Unprecedented," said general manager George Haines, who marveled as everyone else did when a run of 11 straight days of off-tracks ended Jan. 12. Under blue but chilly skies, the track condition was officially upgraded from "good" to "fast" prior to the third race.

Track superintendent Steve Wood said that Santa Anita has been hit with 19 inches of rain since the meeting began Dec. 26. The relentless downpour, which reportedly reached 60 consecutive hours in parts of the region on Jan. 9, was responsible for jockeys and management agreeing to cancel racing that day due to safety concerns after the first race. It was the first such cancellation in 10 years.

"There were no complaints about the condition of the track," Haines said. "Steve Wood and his staff were out there at 3 in the morning sealing it tight. All involved were really working together."

In spite of eight of Sunday's nine races being canceled, 2,000 patrons came to Santa Anita after the decision was announced, playing other tracks and taking in NFL playoffs, Haines noted. A total of 5,138 fans on track wagered just over $1 million. The track offered rain tickets, good for free admission any time later in the meet.

Twenty-two turf races were lost to the weather. Turf racing is expected to resume Friday.

During the wet period, only light training took place on the main track, Haines said. Most exercise workouts were limited to the outskirts of the surface, keeping the inner 30- to 45-feet of track free of traffic except for racing.

According to the National Weather Service, downtown Los Angeles recorded its wettest 15 consecutive days since record-keeping began in 1877, with a total of 17 inches of rain falling in the period ending Monday.

The forecast is for dry conditions through Sunday.

Haines credited the tireless efforts of Wood and his staff for keeping the track in racing condition and getting the strip back to normal so quickly.

"The eight races we lost (Sunday) we will make up by adding races on upcoming weekends," Haines said. "But refunding the gate, the parking, the concessions, we can't make that up."

The track, which launched a splashy 70th anniversary marketing campaign last month in an effort to turn around its sagging gate this year, was undoubtedly hurt at the turnstile. Including 31,874 that turned out opening day under threatening skies, attendance through the first 13 days of the meeting totaled 96,374, an average of 7,413.

This was not the wettest start to a Santa Anita meeting. In 1992-93, the track had 19 consecutive off-tracks from Dec. 29 to Jan. 23, including a pair of canceled cards due to the main track's closure for training. In 1977-78, 18 of the first 19 programs were contested on off going.

The last time a live Santa Anita card had to be halted after it began was on Jan. 8, 1995, when racing was also canceled after the first race.

Because of the training problem, there are a number of races in the next few days with only six or seven horses entered. Haines said he expected that trend to continue for about a week before stables are back at full strength.

"I know one thing," Haines added. "We're never again going to take for granted a sunny day, a fast track and a firm turf course."