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SANTA ANITA FINISHES MEET ON HIGH NOTE, DERBY & INNOVATIVE ON-TRACK EVENTS KEY FACTORS
ARCADIA, Calif. (April 17, 2011)—Santa Anita Park’s 74th winter/spring meet came to a close on Sunday with encouraging news regarding attendance and handle. With the April 9 Santa Anita Derby standing as the highlight of the season, two highly successful Gourmet Food Truck Festivals on Jan. 29 and April 2 contributed significantly to increased attendance late in the meet and offered the prospect of exposing an exciting new demographic to the Southern California racing landscape.
An on-track crowd of 31,523 attended on Derby Day, producing an on-track handle of $4,039,020, which along with the total mutuel handle of $15,088,988 represented the highest figures of the meet in all categories.
“The Santa Anita Derby is our biggest day of the meet and this year was no exception,” said Santa Anita President George Haines. “We had the wettest March we’ve had in many years, but the weather on Derby Day was great, the racing card was strong and we had a sensational day.
“Our Chairman, Frank Stronach, is committed to invigorating the sport of Thoroughbred racing,” said Haines. “Our big days continue to prove that Santa Anita is a venue that can produce on-track events that people want to attend and participate in.”
The late season surge helped enable Santa Anita to equal last year’s daily average on-track attendance, with the average daily on-track handle slipping slightly by three percent. Overall average daily handle was down nine percent, reflective of a severe decline in off-track handle for the winter/spring meet.
The declining horse inventory in California impacted not only Santa Anita’s business, but the racing schedule as well.
“Our original intent was to go to a five-day week in March and in April, but we simply didn’t have the inventory to support that at the time,” Haines said. “California’s horse inventory crisis is one of the key factors in Santa Anita’s final numbers. Our field-size, which is very important to our off-track customers, was impacted by this and thus, our handle. Our fans want full fields and better gambling opportunities. The decline in horse population in the state is a significant problem for all of California racing and could remain so for the foreseeable future.”
Hall of Fame trainer Bob Baffert figured prominently throughout the meet, becoming the first trainer since Jimmy Jones in 1953 to win both the Santa Anita Handicap (Game on Dude) and Santa Anita Derby (Midnight Interlude) in the same meet. Baffert also notched his record ninth Santa Anita training title, winning 44 races, eight clear of John Sadler.
Game on Dude’s win in the Big ’Cap made history on several fronts, as jockey Chantal Sutherland became the first female rider to win the prestigious Grade I event in its 74-year history. Sutherland and Baffert had to wait out a 12-minute stewards’ inquiry before being declared official winners.
For the second consecutive year, Ron Valenta’s La Canada Stables was the leading owner by number of wins. Jockey Joel Rosario dominated the jockeys’ race to win his first Santa Anita riding title. Big ’Cap winner Game on Dude was honored by the media as Horse of the Meet.
Santa Anita, which had a synthetic main track the previous three years, installed a new all-natural dirt surface in early December.
“We continue to be committed to providing the best possible racing surface in the sport,” said Haines. “We’ll continue to work with the horsemen in making adjustments to the main track over the spring and summer and we’re confident we’re going to have a safe and consistent surface for everyone to run on here in the fall.”
Santa Anita’s foray into the Gourmet Food Truck Festival world was an unqualified success.
“The food trucks have found a home here at Santa Anita,” said Haines. “Both of the Food Truck Festivals far exceeded anyone’s expectations and they provided us with a young, family-oriented crowd, which is a great demographic for us. We expanded the Festival area on April 2 to include the entire infield and it was a tremendous success.”
Santa Anita also hosted a number of other promotions designed to attract new and younger people to racing.
“We staged a number of ancillary events, particularly over the past four weeks and they were very successful,” Haines said. “They’ve helped us expose a great many new people to our sport and these are the kinds of things we will continue to do. We also want to express our sincere thanks to our employees for everything they have done to help us in our efforts to welcome new fans to The Great Race Place.”
On March 26, Santa Anita incorporated earthquake relief fund raising into the annual Tokyo City Cup Cultural Festival. The track had a solid crowd of 12,752 people and raised more than $21,000 for the victims in Japan. The Tokyo City Cup led into Santa Anita’s fourth Santa Anita Uncorked wine event on March 27, and it was the most successful one yet.
Santa Anita also hosted the annual Cal Rods Car Show on March 27, which exposed many new people to horseracing as it attracted the biggest number of street rods ever assembled at Santa Anita. In addition to the Derby on April 9, Santa Anita also conducted the annual Derby Day 5K Run and Walk, and had 5,000 people from various age groups participating, many of whom stayed for the day’s racing.
“On closing day, we partnered with City of Hope and staged our first-ever ‘On Track To Beat Cancer’ event which far exceeded our expectations,” Haines continued. “We’re proud of the fact we helped to raise about $100,000 to combat women’s cancers and were able to project an image of unity on behalf of the California Thoroughbred industry.
“We will be consulting with our customers, horsemen and regulators and we’ll come back this fall with policies in place that we hope will work for everyone,” concluded Haines. “Horse racing is an interdependent enterprise and all stakeholders must be well-served in order for the business to thrive. We intend to work tirelessly to that end.”
Santa Anita will reopen for live racing in late September for a six week meet just ahead of the Breeders’ Cup Championship Series.
For more information regarding Santa Anita’s upcoming autumn meeting, fans are encouraged to visit www.santaanita.com.