SANTA ANITA KICKS OFF 2020 SEASON WITH STRONG SUPPORT AND A PICTURE PERFECT WEEKEND OF RACING
On the opening weekend of the 2020 meeting, Santa Anita Park demonstrated why it has long been known as the “The Great Race Place,” as the legendary track featured the highest levels of racing, top-of-line safety reforms and strong partnership with horsemen, horseplayers and fans.
Despite challenging weather conditions pushing back Opening Day two days from its traditional December 26 start date, a total of more than 45,000 fans came to the Arcadia, CA track to enjoy two afternoons of racing against a backdrop of snow covered San Gabriel Mountains.
“We are proud of how the industry stakeholders rallied together as we work to transform this wonderful sport,” said Aidan Butler, Acting Executive Director of California Racing Operations for The Stronach Group. “The safety of the horses and riders continues to be our North Star. From the new protocols for racing and training, to the acquisition of the new PET scan and MRI to aid in diagnosing pre-existing conditions, we are all singularly focused on modernizing this great tradition for the next generation.”
Santa Anita houses close to 2,000 horses in its 64-acre stable area, with 180 of them racing in picture perfect weather over the first two days of the season.
“In addition to being one of the world’s most beautiful sporting venues, Santa Anita is also the largest training center in United States,” continued Butler. “These majestic animals weigh over 1,000 pounds and run at 35-40 miles per hour. Since the close of the Autumn meet on November 3, horses have made at least 52,000 trips over the Santa Anita tracks during training, with more than 4,000 timed works. And, yes, unfortunately, of those 52,000 times, there was one accident during training just three days ago, which was devastating to all involved.
“We remain very proud of the improvements we have made and will continue to make, in spite of some local news media that seem far more interested in clickbait headlines than facts and context. Because of the tremendous work that everyone on site – from veterinarians, to trainers to every other one of our 1,400 employees — has performed, Santa Anita Park is now the model of equine safety reform in the country.”
Opening day was highlighted by Fox Hill Farm’s favored Omaha Beach romping to victory in the Runhappy Malibu Stakes.
“This is really special for us, opening day at Santa Anita,” said Omaha Beach’s trainer, Richard Mandella, after winning the Runhappy Malibu. “After all the trouble we have been through this year, this place is The Great Race Place and we all need to remember that.”
The Runhappy Malibu was one of four stakes wins of the day for star jockey Mike Smith who, after winning the 2018 Triple Crown, closed out 2019 by becoming the all-time leading jockey by Grade 1 wins, which comprise the most important races in the sport. Smith also won the Grade 1 La Brea Stakes on the one-eyed Hard Not to Love who circled the field, allowing Smith to tie the record held by retired jockey Jerry Bailey. Smith then broke tie with the win aboard Omaha Beach.
In just one metric of Santa Anita’s popularity, the total handle – the amount of money wagered on the races – surpassed $19-million, making it the second-highest Opening Day handle in the history of the track which debuted in 1934.
Santa Anita will be open for live racing on Wednesday, New Year’s Day, with first post time of 11:30 a.m. for a 10-race program.