12/26/2011 9:19PM

Santa Anita: Attendance and betting strong for opener


ARCADIA, Calif. – Santa Anita enjoyed big gains in both attendance and handle on Monday’s opening day of the winter-spring meeting, and impressive performances by Mr. Commons in the Sir Beaufort and The Factor in the Malibu gave the crowd of 44,579 plenty to cheer.

The crowd was the largest on opening day since 1994 and 30 percent bigger than the crowd of 34,268 that attended last year, when opening day was on a Sunday.

The ontrack handle of $4,246,751 was 10 percent higher than the $3,851,594 bet in 2010. The all-sources handle, including simulcasting and account wagering, was $15,531,307 a 9.1 percent increase from the 2010 figure of $14,234,328, according to Santa Anita’s mutuels department.

Conditions were ideal for the nine-race program, which began at noon and ended just before sunset at 4:50 p.m. Temperatures were in the low 70s on a cloudless afternoon.

In the first race, the unbeaten Ismene ($3.20) led from start to finish in the 2-year-old filly division of the $100,000 California Breeders’ Champion Stakes. Sent off as the 3-5 favorite following two prior victories, Ismene cruised home 2 3/4 lengths in front of Willa B Awesome, who was 1 3/4 lengths in front of third-place Warren’s Amber.

Got Even led every step of the way in the the 2-year-old male division of the $100,000 California Breeders’ Champion Stakes, and Mr. Commons burst through a hole in the stretch to win the Grade 2 Sir Beaufort. But it was The Factor who put the cap on the day, romping to a 3 1/2-length victory in the Grade 1, $300,000 Malibu Stakes for 3-year-olds while blistering seven furlongs on dirt in 1:19.89, just .19 off the track record set by Twirling Candy last year’s Malibu.

The swell in ontrack business was expected by track officials, although there still were long lines for bets, food and at bars. There were also supply problems for some food stands and bars.

“We knew it would be big because of reservations and the national holiday,” track president George Haines said. “We knew it was strong, but we were a little surprised. There were opening day problems that we hoped we wouldn’t have, but there were situations.”

Haines said one contributing factor to the larger crowd was a promotional strategy that emphasized social media, such as Twitter and Facebook, as well as the old-fashioned use of billboards.

“We couldn’t be happier with the way we started the meeting,” Haines said. “We had a lot of first-time visitors. We want to continue to do it from Day 1. It’s going in the right direction.”

The meeting runs through April 22.

– additional reporting by Jay Privman