06/10/2017 9:05AM

Santa Anita cancels last two Thursday cards of meet due to horse shortage

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ARCADIA, Calif. – The decision by Santa Anita to cancel the final two Thursdays of the spring-summer meet is not necessarily a preview of permanent three-day race weeks, according to Tim Ritvo, chief operating officer of Santa Anita owner The Stronach Group.

Santa Anita announced Friday the cancellation of live racing June 15 and June 22. The track will run three-day race weeks June 16-18 and June 23-25 instead of four-day weeks. The meet ends with a five-day week – Friday, June 30, through Tuesday, July 4.

“That’s not our ultimate goal to just go to three days a week,” Ritvo said Saturday. “We want to increase race days, but we have to give the customers cards that they’re going to bet on.”

Ritvo, who was in New York on Saturday to attend the Belmont Stakes, said the decision to drop the last two Thursdays was made after evaluating horse inventory and planning for the five-day week that ends the meet.

“We thought we were going to be really light anyway … and especially because the last week we run a five-day week,” Ritvo said. “It’s a short-term fix right now. We have to get a long-term solution to our field size.”

Santa Anita has struggled to fill races at this meet, averaging 7.29 starters per race heading into this week. The track canceled two previous Thursdays – April 27 and June 8 – due to insufficient entries. Partly as a result of the most recent cancellation, Santa Anita was able to offer an appealing nine-race card this past Friday. Business was up.

“We saw good results Friday,” Ritvo said. “We were up 40 percent compared to the same day last year.”

He said increased field size and one extra race contributed to the increase. Ritvo hopes eliminating the final Thursdays produces similar results.

“Now that we have those days off, we’ll look at Friday-Saturday-Sunday, and compare them to a Thursday-Friday-Saturday-Sunday, and that will be a test,” he said, emphasizing two key considerations. “One, we want to make sure we don’t hurt the horsemen, and two, make sure the fans get a better experience.”

Santa Anita will run 11 races Saturday and 10 on Sunday for a total of 30 races over three days. The previous four-day week included 34 races.