01/17/2014 3:57PM

Santa Anita: All-sources handle down 6% at meeting

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ARCADIA, Calif. – Business figures were mixed in the first three weeks of the Santa Anita winter-spring meeting, a span of ideal weather but lower-than-expected field sizes.

Through Sunday, the 13th day of the 69-day meeting, ontrack average handle and attendance were up 5 percent, according to track president George Haines. But all-sources handle, including simulcasting in California and nationwide and through account-wagering providers, was down 6 percent.

Handle through account wagering was up 8 percent, but handle from Southern California satellites was down 12 percent. Nationwide simulcasting was down 6 percent. Handle from the casino at Hollywood Park was down 31 percent, Haines said.

Hollywood Park closed Dec.  22 and shifted its simulcasting business from the racetrack to an adjacent casino.

Haines cited a drop in average field size as a leading contributor to the decline in all-sources handle. Through Thursday, fields have averaged 7.67 starters in 120 races. By comparison, the first 122 races of the 2012-13 meeting had an average field size of 8.74 starters. The entire 2012-13 meeting had an average of 8.08 starters per race.

“We’ve been hurt by the short fields,” Haines said.

The current meeting has been conducted in ideal weather. There has been no measurable rain in Southern California since Dec. 19.

Haines and other track officials have cited the absence of a gap between the conclusion of the Hollywood Park autumn meeting on Dec. 22 and the start of the current meeting on Dec. 26 as a factor in field sizes.

In the three preceding years, the Hollywood Park autumn meeting ended on Dec. 19, 2010, Dec. 18, 2011, and Dec. 16, 2012. Santa Anita opened on Dec. 26 in those years.

“We think it affected us,” Haines said.

Racing secretary Rick Hammerle said Thursday that he expects average field sizes to improve in coming weeks. There were 82 horses entered on Saturday’s nine-race program, an average of 9.11 runners per race before scratches. There are 76 entered on Sunday’s nine-race program.

“I see signs of life,” Hammerle said. “I knew it would be a little bit rough at the beginning with a lack of a break. In a couple of weeks, we’ll be okay.”

At the start of the current meeting, Santa Anita eliminated the place pick all and rolling daily doubles, going with three daily doubles per day – on the first two races, the fourth and fifth races, and the final two races. The three daily doubles have a takeout of 18 percent, lower than the takeout of 23.68 percent for the daily double at previous meetings.

The decision has been met with opposition by some bettors, who have begun an online petition asking the track to reverse its decision. Haines said there is no immediate plan to reinstate rolling doubles or the place pick all.

“The double pools have been in decline,” he said. “A guy could make a $100 double bet, and it would turn the prices upside down. We need to evaluate it and give it more time.”