(from Santa Anita)
Santa Anita Park concluded its 84-day winter/spring meeting in robust fashion on April 19, posting the first gain in on-track attendance at any major California racetrack since the summer of 2007 at Del Mar.
Leading the way was Santa Anita’s “Free Fridays” promotion, which offered fans free general admission, free box seating and one dollar concessions, along with a robust Santa Anita Derby Day crowd on April 4 of 50,915. They helped Santa Anita to post a 1% gain in on-track attendance. On-track handle dipped 3% compared to 2008, while all-sources handle fell 12%.
“Derby Day was a home run for us, no doubt about it,” said Santa Anita President Ron Charles. “Along with the big crowd, our on-track handle was tremendous. We handled over $5.6 million and that was a 10 percent increase over last year.
This year’s Derby Day crowd also marked the fourth year in a row that on-track attendance has exceeded 50,000 people.
The “Free Fridays” promotion resulted in a 55% jump in attendance over last year on Fridays and the on-track handle was up 15%.
"We knew coming into this meet that we were going to be facing serious challenges due to the economy, both nationally and locally,” said Charles. “We wanted to let people know that they could count on Santa Anita for the best entertainment and sports value in metro L.A., and our numbers showed we delivered.
“Given the state of the economy in America and particularly in California, this was an extraordinary meet. The 'Free Fridays' promotion got rolling early and it built throughout the meet. The proof of that is that we had over 9,000 people here on Friday (April 17), which was our biggest non holiday weekday in years,” he added.
“When you look at the way this recession is affecting other sports and gambling businesses, it’s really gratifying to be able to finish the meet with an increase in on-track attendance,” said Charles. “Although we were down marginally in our on-track handle, we are very pleased that we more than held our own in this tough economy and we’re hoping we can do even better next year.
“As for the decline in our total handle, we certainly anticipated that. There simply isn’t as much money in circulation as there was a year ago and we knew that to be the case coming into this meet. While disappointing, it was gratifying to hold it as well as we did. We’d like to thank our horsemen and our fans, both here in California and around the country for their continued support. We can’t control the economy, but we can try to make our product as appealing and affordable as possible and we’ve done that.”
On the racetrack, Pioneerof the Nile was a clear-cut standout for Horse of the Meet honors after capturing the Robert Lewis Stakes (gr. II) on Feb. 7, the San Felipe Stakes (gr. II) on March 14 and the Santa Anita Derby (gr. I) on April 4. He cemented his status as the West Coast’s top Kentucky Derby candidate. Owned and bred by Zayat Stables LLC, the Kentucky-bred colt by Empire Maker is trained by Bob Baffert and is ridden by Garrett Gomez.
High riding Rafael Bejarano made it back-to-back Santa Anita riding titles and in so doing, set a record by becoming the first jockey to ever win six consecutive Southern California riding titles. Bejarano finished with 99 wins.
Veteran trainer John Sadler, with 40 wins, won a head and head duel with Mike Mitchell (39) for leading trainer honors. A victory in the seventh race on the final day of the stand broke a tie that gave the 52-year-old Sadler his first-ever Santa Anita title.
Ron Valenta’s La Canada Stable won a total of 24 races and was voted top owner by the media.
Live racing will return to Santa Anita with the 41st Oak Tree Meeting scheduled to begin on Sept. 30. It will be highlighted by the Breeders’ Cup World Championships, which returns for an unprecedented second straight year on Nov. 6 and 7.
Santa Anita will remain open for training and as a satellite wagering venue for the upcoming Hollywood Park meet, which begins on April 22.