04/17/2011 9:44PM

Santa Anita all-sources handle declines 9 percent

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ARCADIA, Calif.-Santa Anita concluded its winter-spring meeting on Sunday with a 3 percent decline in average daily ontrack handle and a 9 percent decline in all-sources handle compared with  the 2009-10 meeting, track president George Haines said.

The average daily attendance was “equal to last year,” according to a track statement. The 2009-10 ontrack average daily attendance was 7,876.

The track did not release detailed figures. Haines said that average daily handle and attendance figures were the best way to compare the two meetings, which differed significantly.

In 2009-10, the track lost five days of racing when the synthetic track used at the time failed to drain sufficiently. Last fall, Santa Anita installed a sand-and-clay track first used when the 2010-11 meeting opened on Dec. 26. While the surface drained sufficiently, especially during widespread rain in December and January, six Wednesdays were cancelled in March and April because of a lack of available horses.

“It’s been a challenge and we’ve had our ups and downs,” Haines said of the meeting. “There is concern about the horse inventory, and not being able to run on Wednesdays was a big concern.

“I think we’re ending more on a high on a day-to-day basis. We will have a lot in front of us this summer.”

The track was scheduled to run five-day weeks in March and April, adding Wednesdays, after racing for four days a week for most of January and February. In February, a decision was made to cancel the first three Wednesdays of March, with the hope that sufficient horses would enter for the final four weeks. One Wednesday program was run, March 23, before the final three Wednesdays of the meeting were cancelled in late March and early April.

The meeting averaged 7.63 horses per race, compared with 7.81 horses per race in the 2009-10 meeting.

Haines said the absence of Wednesday racing in the spring hurt all-sources handle.

“If you’re not in the market, [horseplayers] look for alternatives,” he said. “They found Florida and New York.”

Haines said the closure of the New York City Off-Track Betting network last fall was responsible for a considerable decline in out-of-state handle.

Despite the setbacks, Haines said track officials are moving forward with a proposal to host the 2012 Breeders’ Cup, host a fall meeting for the first time later this year, and planning a renovation of the new main track this spring or summer.

The Breeders’ Cup has been held at Santa Anita five times, most recently in consecutive years in 2008 and 2009. Santa Anita officials will meet with the Breeders’ Cup in coming weeks about 2012, Haines said.

“We’ll make the presentation in mid-May,” Haines said.

This fall, Santa Anita will host a six-week meeting for the first time, from Sept. 29 to Nov. 6, taking over from the Oak Tree Racing Association, which ran a fall meeting at Santa Anita from 1969 to 2009. Last fall, Oak Tree’s meeting was held at Hollywood Park. In February, the California Horse Racing Board granted the fall dates to Santa Anita over Oak Tree, which sought to race at Hollywood Park again.

In an arrangement finalized earlier this year, Oak Tree, a not-for-profit organization, will have a role in the fall meeting, and continue to make a financial contribution to organizations affiliated with the sport.

The racing surface is expected to undergo renovation in coming weeks, with details yet to be finalized, Haines said. He said sand will be added to the surface. The addition of sand would reduce the clay content.

“At times it’s very good, and at times the perception is that it’s very bad,” Haines said. “We will do some remediation on the track. There are a couple of things we can do – taking off material and adding material.”

There was concern among some horsemen about the safety of the main track.

According to the California Horse Racing Board, there were 26 fatalities at the meeting – 12 in racing, including one who was injured after clipping heels; eight during training, including one from a sudden death and another from injuries suffered in a collision; and six on turf. Last year, there were two fatalities during racing on the main track.

Haines said that Santa Anita will aid the racing board in financing more extensive studies into racing fatalities. “We are very concerned about safety,” he said.

On the racetrack, Joel Rosario won his first Santa Anita riding title with 89 wins, unseating Rafael Bejarano, who had won the last three riding titles but was second this year with 81 wins.

Hall of Famer Bob Baffert led all trainers with 44 wins, his ninth title in the history of the winter-spring meeting and first since 2002-03. Baffert won the meeting’s two biggest races – the $1 million Santa Anita Derby with Midnight Interlude and the $750,000 Santa Anita Handicap with Game On Dude, who was named horse of the meeting

Ron Valenta’s La Canada Stables led all owners with 16 wins.