09/28/2016 11:40AM

Breeders' Cup the theme of Santa Anita meet

Barbara D. Livingston
Santa Anita runs seven Breeders' Cup prep stakes over the first three days of the meet.

ARCADIA, Calif. – For six weeks starting Friday, Santa Anita will be the focus of American racing.

The 23-day meeting begins with seven graded stakes from Friday through Sunday that are preps for Breeders’ Cup races here Nov. 4-5.

Among the world-class runners on display, none has a greater presence than California Chrome, the 2014 Horse of the Year and the leading contender for the award this year. California Chrome, the future-book favorite for the Breeders’ Cup Classic on Nov. 5, is scheduled to start in Saturday’s $300,000 Awesome Again Stakes, one of five Grade 1 preps that afternoon for Breeders’ Cup races.

An appearance by California Chrome will be a box-office boost for Saturday’s ontrack audience, said Joe Morris, Santa Anita’s senior vice president.

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“I think we can do 30,000,” Morris said this month. “I think Chrome is worth 10,000. It will be a number to shoot for. If we get 25,000, I’d be happy.”

Friday will be the first day of live racing at Santa Anita since the second weekend of July. Since then, the track has replaced its turf course and refurbished its main track.

Santa Anita ceased turf racing in early June, a month before the end of its spring-summer meeting, to replace the hillside turf course and the main turf oval. Track officials said they wanted to give the course ample time to grow before the important autumn meeting. The new course is a Bermuda-Bandera hybrid that was installed in stages, first on the hillside in early June and on the main course later that month.

The turf course will get its first test on Friday, when four of the nine races are run on grass, including two divisions of the $100,000 Eddie D Stakes on the hillside turf course.

The course will be used extensively through the weekend.

“We’ll come right out with three or four [turf] races a day,” Morris said.

The focus of the meeting is clearly on the first two weekends and the final weekend.

After opening with 14 stakes in the first eight days of racing, including five Breeders’ Cup preps on the three-day second weekend of the meet, Morris and his staff will have the difficult job of luring customers back to Santa Anita in the final weeks of October. The meeting closes Nov. 6.

“We’ve got a big opening with the five stakes,” Morris said of Saturday’s program. “The second weekend will be good. There is a little bit of a lull when people will save up for the Breeders’ Cup. We’re doing a lot of marketing for opening weekend. We’ve got things going on every week.”

In a way, the track has already been fortunate. Temperatures were in the triple digits in the Los Angeles area on Monday and Tuesday, but milder conditions are expected for the weekend, with temperatures expected in the 80s. That could help boost attendance.