SANTA ANITA UNVEILS DIRT TRACK, OPEN FOR TRAINING, HORSEMEN, PUBLIC WELCOMED ‘BACK HOME’

ARCADIA, Calif. (Dec. 7, 2010)—Amid banners reading “Welcome Back,” Santa Anita Park unveiled its new all-natural dirt main track on Monday morning at 4:30 a.m, as horses and horsemen returned to Santa Anita’s historic one mile oval for the first time since July.

“It’s really exciting to welcome everyone back home, so to speak,” said Ami Atkinson, Santa Anita’s Horsemen’s Liaison and Racing Office Manager. “I’ve been working in this Liaison position for 12 years now and I’ve never seen so many people so thrilled to be back here at Santa Anita. It seems like everyone is excited about the new track and the bigger purses that we’re going to be offering.”

Atkinson is renewing acquaintances with both new and familiar faces each morning, as Santa Anita’s new main track and projected 25 percent increase in purses have generated interest from stables nationwide.

“We have people from all over the place,” said Atkinson. “Whenever you have big stables shipping in large numbers of horses, there are a lot of people involved with those horses, grooms, hotwalkers, exercise riders and assistants, who are working here full-time and who come to Clockers’ Corner for coffee and breakfast. People always have questions on where to go for dinner, where to take their dry cleaning, where to shop and so on. Santa Anita is new to some of these people and they just seem blown away by the beauty of this place and by what an incredible facility it is.”

The upcoming winter/spring meeting, which opens on Dec. 26, marks Atkinson’s first meet as Racing Office Manager, as she is replacing the recently retired Nancy Wallen, who had served in that position from 1975 through this past April.

“Nancy was my mentor here at Santa Anita,” said Atkinson. “She was and is a truly beloved person and she knew everyone. She had a way of brightening up the Racing Office and people knew that if they had questions about anything, Nancy could take care of it. It’s an honor to follow in her footsteps.”

Atkinson is also the mother of two young girls and is married to jockey Paul Atkinson. Chief among Atkinson’s many daily duties is getting her daughters, MaKenzie, 13, and Sarah, six, off to school.

“With Paul up before dawn to go work horses, our house gets moving pretty early,” she said. “Due to the fact we’ve always been a racetrack family, the girls are used to getting up early and so it’s pretty easy getting them ready and to school on time. On the weekends, they usually come with me to the track in the mornings and it’s been a great experience for them.

“To be able to meet and recognize so many people over the years has been a great learning opportunity for them and it helps them understand more fully, their dad’s profession. As they get older, I think they’ll look back on these years and realize that we, as a family, have been blessed to have been able to meet so many fantastic people.”

First post time on opening day, Dec. 26, is 12 noon. For more information on opening day and upcoming racing action, go to www.santaanita.com.

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