Santa Anita Sees Increases in Handle and Attendance, but Field Size Remains a Problem

By Steve Andersen
ARCADIA, Calif. – Santa Anita completed a marathon six-month season on Tuesday with increases in all-sources handle and attendance, track officials said.

But the final months of the meeting were plagued by difficulty filling races, and racing on four Thursdays was canceled – one in late April and three in June. The track raced three days a week for three weeks in June and saw an increase in field size during that span.

Three-day weeks may be built into the schedule for the 2018 meeting, according to track senior vice president Joe Morris.

“I think you’ll see some three-day weeks at the end,” Morris said.

Morris said the track will ask the racing board for a six-month meeting from Dec. 26 to June 24, 2018.

For the season ending Tuesday, all-sources handle rose by 2.5 percent, while attendance increased 8 percent, according to track officials. Total attendance for the six-month season was 831,134, a gain of 62,400 over 2015-16, according to Nate Newby, Santa Anita’s vice president of marketing. The track did not release extensive handle data.

The 103-day season began Dec. 26 and ran uninterrupted until Tuesday. During the 2015-16 season, Santa Anita also raced for 103 days, but it was divided between a 63-day meeting from Dec. 26, 2015, to April 10, 2016, and a 40-day meeting from May 5 to July 10. Los Alamitos ran for the three weeks between meets.

Morris said the consolidated season helped boost business.

“The big difference was we didn’t stop for three weeks,” he said. “We kept the momentum going.”

For purposes of jockey and trainer statistics, the season was divided into two meetings – Dec. 26 to April 9 and April 14 to Tuesday.

For the spring-summer portion of the meeting this year, fields averaged 7.55 runners per race. The comparable meeting last year, from May 5 to July 10, averaged 7.26 runners per race. There was no turf racing for the final three weeks of last year’s spring-summer meet while the course was replaced.

Field size this year increased during the final month of the season to an average of 8.07 per race. Santa Anita raced three days a week for the first three weeks of the final month and five days during the last week of the meet.

“The players are loud and clear,” Morris said. “They want fuller fields. You have to provide opportunities for your gamblers and horsemen.”

Despite the gain in handle, a deficit remains in the purse pool, Morris said.

“We were overpaid going in, and we’re a little more overpaid,” Morris said.

Morris said discussions will be held with the Thoroughbred Owners of California about the possibility of correlating prize money to field size in an effort to encourage entries.

Santa Anita will have a 19-day autumn meeting from Sept. 29 to Oct. 29. After a three-day opening weekend, racing will be held largely on a Thursday-through-Sunday basis, with racing on Monday, Oct. 9, but no racing on Thursday, Oct. 12.