12/19/2016 10:00AM

Los Alamitos ends strong December meeting on high note

Benoit & Associates
California Chrome's victory in the Winter Challenge on Saturday was the high spot of the Los Alamitos December meet.

CYPRESS, Calif. – Los Alamitos ended a two-week winter Thoroughbred meeting on Sunday with an increase in average daily all-sources handle of approximately 16 percent from last year’s December meeting, according to general manager Brad McKinzie.

The meeting, which began Dec. 8, had a slight increase in average ontrack handle, McKinzie said. The track did not release detailed business figures for the meet, which ran for eight days compared to 12 last year.

“This was kind of serendipitous meet,” McKinzie said. “We had everything fall our way. After the first week, we were up 13 percent. We were up every day over last year.

“Ontrack continues to be challenging and it’s the most frustrating piece of this whole exercise.”

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McKinzie credited an increase in field size as a leading factor in the growth in handle. Fields averaged 7.89 runners per race, the most since the track began running daytime Thoroughbred races in 2014. The previous best was 7.73 runners per race at the 2014 September meeting. The 2015 December meeting averaged 7.14 runners per race.

The racing highlights of the meeting included Mastery winning the Grade 1 Los Alamitos CashCall Futurity, Abel Tasman winning the Grade 1 Starlet Stakes, and California Chrome winning the $180,000 Los Alamitos Winter Challenge on Saturday. The race was created by track management as a way to give California Chrome a start at Los Alamitos, where he is based, before the final race of his career in the $12 million Pegasus World Cup at Gulfstream Park on Jan. 28.

“We found a marketing plan that works – get California Chrome to run,” McKinzie said.

Handle was boosted by a three-day pick six carryover of $308,191 into Saturday’s program. Bettors added $1,250,238 to Saturday’s pick six. The pick six paid $1,406 that day.

Saturday’s nine-race program had track-record pools in the pick five, the early and late pick fours, and the pick six.

The 50-cent pick five handled $410,783 on Saturday, considerably more than the previous mark of $370,539, set last May. Saturday’s early pick four handled $166,416, and the late pick four handled $597,105, surpassing the previous mark of $470,930, set in July 2015.

McKinzie said business was strong enough to support the purse structure and the meeting will underpay purses.

One disappointment was attendance. Saturday’s program drew 5,023, which was fewer than McKinzie expected with the presence of California Chrome.

“It’s hard to break through in this market,” he said. “We thought more people would come out.

“California Chrome aside, it was a good meet. We were up double digits. I hope it continues and Santa Anita is up.”

Santa Anita hosts the next Thoroughbred meet in Southern California. The track begins its winter-spring meeting on Dec. 26.

Trainers Bob Baffert, Peter Miller and Mike Puype led trainers at ther Los Alamitos meeting with four wins each.

Joe Talamo led all jockeys with seven wins, one more than Tyler Baze.

Los Alamitos will host three Thoroughbred meetings in 2017 – a two-week season in July and three-week meetings in September and December.