12/27/2006 12:00AM

Big turnout thanks to strong card

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ARCADIA, Calif. - The Daily Racing Form columnist Joe Hirsch once said, "Good racing is good business." Santa Anita proved that on Tuesday.

Propelled by an opening-day card featuring full fields and a competitive 12-horse field in the Grade 1 Malibu Stakes, Santa Anita had the most successful Tuesday opening since the expansion of cross-town simulcast wagering.

The final attendance was 32,931, though the stuffed parking lot, jammed box-seat section, and packed paddock made it feel as though there were even more people at the track. The last two times Santa Anita opened on a Tuesday, the ontrack attendance was 30,898 (in 1995) and 29,912 (in 2000).

The challenging racing was an allurement to bettors and drove handle to nearly $15 million. The final figure - $14,940,499 - was significantly better than the handle posted on opening-day Tuesdays in 1995 ($11,916,717) and 2000 ($14,160,853).

Santa Anita opened on a holiday Monday last year, which resulted in an ontrack attendance of 34,590 and handle of $19,004,625. But comparing apples to apples, for a Tuesday, this year's opener was a success.

"Obviously, we're thrilled," said Ron Charles, Santa Anita's president. "Tuesday is traditionally the worst day for Santa Anita to open. To get about 33,000 far exceeded our expectations."

Charles credited Santa Anita's racing office for putting together a tremendous card and credited the track's marketing department for an aggressive television media buy in Southern California.

"It does cost a lot of money to be on TV and on major sporting events, but if you're willing to spend the money, you're not only going to attract racing fans, but people who want to come to a great sporting destination," Charles said. "Did the TV spots work? Yes. Will we continue to promote the track? Yes. This place was jammed."

The Malibu went to Latent Heat, who received a perfect stalking trip under jockey Edgar Prado before spurting clear in the stretch to win by two lengths over Spring at Last, who beat Midnight Lute by a head for second.

Brother Derek, who appeared uncomfortable racing inside horses, finished seventh as the 2-1 favorite. Arson Squad, whom jockey Alex Solis chose over Brother Derek, never was in the hunt and finished eighth in the 12-horse field.

Latent Heat ($13.40) completed seven furlongs on the fast main track in 1:21.39. He has now won five times in nine starts. Bobby Frankel trains Latent Heat for Prince Khalid Abdullah's Juddmonte Farms.