12/26/2010 10:07PM

More than 34,000 attend opener; handle dips from 2009

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ARCADIA, Calif. - Attendance and handle fell compared to last year for Sunday’s opening day of the Santa Anita winter-spring meeting, the first on the newly installed dirt track.

The track drew an ontrack crowd of 34,268, a decline of 4 percent over a Saturday opening in 2009, but an increase over the opening days in the three previous years. Track president George Haines said Sunday’s crowd was held down by early morning rains.

“Given what were facing in terms of the weather, we were very pleased,”said Haines. “It was a good day for Santa Anita.”

The all-sources handle of $11,707,276 was a drop of 23.6 percent compared to 2009. The figure includes betting ontrack, at satellite locations through California and the nation, and through account-wagering outlets. Sunday’s ontrack handle was $3,851,594, a decline of 15 percent from the 2009 ontrack handle.

The track ran nine races on Sunday compared to 10 races on opening day last year. In addition, all of Sunday’s races were run on the main track after overnight rain led two races to be transferred from turf to the main track. Haines said the poor weather in the East Coast on Sunday hurt simulcast handle.

“They had the big storm and we knew we were going to get killed back there,” he said.

Sunday’s ontrack crowd was 7.5 percent higher than the 2004 opening, the last on a Sunday. Santa Anita has opened its winter-spring meeting on Dec. 26 annually since 1977. Sunday’s crowd was 4 percent higher than the 2006 opener, which came on a Tuesday; 14 percent higher than 2007, on a Wednesday; and 3 percent higher than 2008’s opening day, on a Friday.

Sunday’s program was the first for the new sand-and-clay surface, which was installed in November. The new surface replaced a troubled synthetic track that failed to drain sufficiently in wet weather.

The new surface, which endured more than 14 inches of rain from Dec. 17 through Sunday, produced two track records on Sunday.
The Factor ran six furlongs in 1:06.98 in a 2-year-old maiden race, breaking a 21-year-old record of 1:07.20 held by Sunny Blossom. Twirling Candy ran seven furlongs in 1:19.70 in the Grade 1 Malibu Stakes, breaking Spectacular Bid’s 30-year-old record of 1:20 set in the same race.
Haines said track officials checked with timer Dane Nelson who verified the figures.

The track, which cost $3 million to install, consists of 90 percent sand and 10 percent clay and opened for training on Dec. 6. Haines said he was pleased with the way the track performed.

“This is a track that is less than three weeks old,” Haines said. “It could need some maintenance. We’ll adjust our maintenance to do what’s best for the horses.

“We’ve put a lot of time and effort into it and it looks like we’re pretty close.”

Track maintenance crews worked the surface after training on Sunday morning, scraping off several inches of material and harrowing the remaining layers. “It seems to be holding more moisture because we have a lot of fine material,” Haines said.

The opening week continues on Monday with a nine-race program. Haines said turf racing is likely to start on Monday. There is no rain in the Southern California forecast until Wednesday.