02/25/2014 1:52PM

Santa Anita: All-sources handle up 3%, but field size declines

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ARCADIA, Calif. – The winter-spring meeting at Santa Anita reached the halfway point earlier this month with an increase in all-sources handle, but a decline in average field size that has concerned officials.

The 69-day meeting began Dec. 26 and continues through April 20. Thursday’s program at Santa Anita will be the 40th day of the winter-spring meeting. The track’s spring-summer meeting begins April 25 and runs through June 29, replacing much of the former Hollywood Park spring-summer meeting.

At Santa Anita, all-sources handle has risen approximately 3 percent through last Saturday’s program, but field size has dropped from 8.3 runners per race at this point of the 2012-13 meeting to 7.69 runners through Sunday. The entire 2012-13 meeting averaged 8.08 runners per race.

“We’re all concerned about field sizes,” track president George Haines said last weekend.

Despite the drop in average starters, Haines said there are no plans to alter the racing schedule, such as going to a three-day racing week.

“It’s not something we’ve talked about,” Haines said.

For Thursday’s program, there are 57 horses entered for eight races, or 7.1 horses per race before scratches. Friday’s eight-race program has 58 entrants.

Haines and other officials cite several reasons for the decline, including an extra week of racing at the Hollywood Park autumn meeting in December, which was not run in 2012; and two five-day racing weeks in January and February to accommodate holiday racing on Mondays.

“Running at Hollywood Park on the last week was more detrimental than we thought,” said Joe Morris, president of the Thoroughbred Owners of California.

While the holiday programs were held in past years, this year’s meeting has played out under a different offtrack stabling scenario. Hollywood Park, which ceased racing in December for development, closed its barn area at the end of January. As a result, stables based there were relocated to Santa Anita, Barretts Sales and Racing at the Los Angeles County Fair, Los Alamitos in Orange County, and the San Luis Rey Downs training center in northern San Diego County in late January.

Trainers that relocated spent time reorganizing their stables and may not have been as active with runners, said Rick Hammerle, Santa Anita’s director of racing.

“People are getting settled,” Hammerle said. “When they move to a new location, horses have to get familiar with the surface. That’s obviously a factor.”

At the same time, training conditions have been ideal this winter. The first half of the meeting had abnormally dry weather, leaving California in a drought. While wet weather is expected in coming days, there has been no significant disruption to training caused by weather.

“The weather has been fantastic, and the racing has been great,” Haines said.

The weather has helped business. Haines said the purse pool is “right about where we thought we’d be” after the first two months of the season.

Earlier this month, Morris said at a TOC open forum at Santa Anita that there are approximately 2,600 horses at Santa Anita and the offtrack stabling venues, a number growing each week with additional 2-year-olds. The juveniles will begin racing in late April.

Through April 13, the track will run four-day racing weeks, followed by a two-day weekend on April 19-20 to conclude the winter-spring meeting.

“We’re about to get into a run of four days [per week] which will help,” Hammerle said.