04/21/2014 8:42AM

Handle up, attendance down at Santa Anita winter-spring meeting

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ARCADIA, Calif. – Santa Anita finished its 69-day winter-spring meeting Sunday with an increase in average daily all-sources handle but a decline in average ontrack attendance, according to track president Tom Ludt.

The meeting, which began Dec. 26, had an increase in all-sources handle of approximately 4 percent. Attendance was down 8 percent, while ontrack handle was down approximately 1 percent, Ludt said.

The track did not release extensive business data after Sunday’s final day of the season.

Ludt said the business of the meeting left him with mixed feelings, encouraged by higher handle and hopeful that the track’s recent improvements and a new admission strategy will lead to larger crowds.

“With handle up ontrack and countrywide, we’re doing something right,” he said. “I’m concerned about attendance, but we’ve made a major investment in the experience.”

Last summer, the track refurbished the mezzanine level to offer a wider variety of food choices and upgraded the old turf club and box-seat area. For the upcoming spring-summer meeting that begins Friday, the track is offering free admission to the infield on weekends in an effort to attract families and more casual racing fans.

“We’re trying to do things to drive attendance,” he said.

Ludt said the track is “getting away from giveaways,” which can skew attendance figures, he said.

The spring-summer meeting will be a first at Santa Anita. In prior years, the track ended its winter-spring meeting in late April and did not resume racing until an autumn meeting started in late September. This year, the spring-summer meeting continues through June 29, replacing dates previously run at Hollywood Park, which closed in December.

The two biggest races of the winter-spring meeting produced the largest handle figures. The Santa Anita Handicap program March 8 had an all-sources handle of $22,589,082. The Santa Anita Derby card’s handle was $22,542,443.

The largest ontrack crowd was on Santa Anita Derby Day, with 35,241, a figure 6.7 percent higher than the corresponding day in 2013. The Big Cap program drew 27,121.

Field sizes were down from the corresponding meeting in 2013. The track ran 594 races with 4,551 starters, for an average of 7.66 runners per race. At the 2012-13 meeting, the track ran 616 races that had an average field size of 8.08 runners per race. Field size in February averaged just 7.17 runners per race, but that figure rose to 8.09 runners per race in April.

On the racetrack, Rafael Bejarano was the runaway leading rider, with 93 wins, 39 more than runner-up Joe Talamo. Bejarano, 32, has won five riding titles at winter-spring meetings. He won three consecutive titles from 2007-08 through 2009-10 and again last year.

Trainers Jerry Hollendorfer and John Sadler finished in a tie for first with 34 wins, one more than Bob Baffert, who had won the training title at the three previous winter-spring meetings.

Sadler won the final race Sunday with Bench Light, who rallied in deep stretch of a turf race over 1 1/4 miles to catch the Hollendorfer-trained Husband’s Folly. For Hollendorfer, the title was his first at a winter-spring meeting. Sadler won titles at the 2008-09 and 2009-10 meetings.

Glen Hill Farm led all owners with 15 wins, including stakes with Customer Base, Diversy Harbor, Enterprising, and Pontchatrain, all trained by Tom Proctor.

California Chrome, unbeaten in three stakes, including the Santa Anita Derby, was voted horse of the meeting. California Chrome is expected to be favored in the Kentucky Derby at Churchill Downs on May 3.

Conrado Herrera More than 1 year ago
Bring back the double bet each race and lower betting to 50 cents and 1 dollar just like Aqueduct, Calder Tampa Bay, Gulfstream Park and you will be getting a lot of sales and attendance or else, goodbye, Santa Anita, and welcome, Del Mar with juicy dividends!
Greg More than 1 year ago
Other than backside info here an there going to the track is way less attractive because of online wagering an TVG, HRTV,. As a horse player I cant afford to go to the track , wait in line to place wagers?? NO WAY.
Bob More than 1 year ago
I haven't seen lines since the early 80s .... They push online wagering and wonder why no one goes to track unless it's a big day
Todd Mendenhall More than 1 year ago
“Giveaways can skew attendance figures” I don’t understand the theory there. I didn't attend or enjoy the spring meet as much this year. My attendance was skewed by short field chalk and less giveaways. When you hit the exacta, the payout won't cover the cost of a good bloody mary. Hard to get the newbees excited about horse racing when they hit a $3.50 winner or $7.00 exacta. You feel stupid for talking them into going. Great park though. Still one of my favorite places to be.
Steve More than 1 year ago
If you want more live attendance it's very simple - LOWER THE PRICES
Pat More than 1 year ago
My God, these people STILL don't get it. They don't have a clue! "Mixed feeling" my tush. He should be hitting the panic button. Rome is burning and this guy has "mixed feeling" about the color of the flames and the odor of the smoke. How sad, how very sad. But then again, this is California racing...very sad.
Shawn Britton More than 1 year ago
Delmar soon will be bar none. Best track in the west
Bob More than 1 year ago
The answer to low attendance is advertised commonly and everyday. Twinspires.com , Express bet , HRTV & TVG . Obvious yet ? I can't believe turnstiles still exist. attendance is still taken. ? Gulfstream and Calder you walk in like any other casino
mikey More than 1 year ago
They don't even count the house.Like the song walk right in sit right down.
diane esper More than 1 year ago
I didn't realize last year was Adios to the San Juan Capistrano. Ok, so you didn't care. .
Walter More than 1 year ago
The San Juan Capistrano will be run in June this year. It didn't go away.
Ed Gredvig More than 1 year ago
Give a ways all but eliminated, millions spent on an area that seats hundreds. Advertising by word of mouth or "social media". And you wonder why attendance is down? With parking,admission, program and form, still $20 to get in the door. Every Indian Casino gives money to come play with them, and you wonder why attendance is down? Your big bettors calling offshore and getting rebates and glorified on a TV show. But, we got 18% takeout on doubles with 5 horse fields. And you wonder why attendance is down? I love Santa Anita, but with a dwindling horse population, management that makes poor decisions or listen to those who know what their doing, the future does not look good.
mikey More than 1 year ago
Yes sir.The days of only trainers,owners who get in and get everything free.is near.The track only cares about the handle.There is no need to go to the track.Fight the traffic high prices even for a good seat.When i started in the 60s you got there early and put newspaper on your seat to save it.Now you drive a bus in the clubhouse and not have to blow the horn.Shame shame shame.
Marty Brink More than 1 year ago
Quality of the runners has a lot to do with the attendance numbers. I went to the track(SA) on a Sunday recently and it was like a ghost town. 1800 in attendance. I went to the track for entertainment value and made a pick 4 wager and a few small bets. Short fields and poor quality kept me from wagering more.I like Santa Anita,but California racing has gone to hell,along with everything else in this state.