12/11/2008 12:00AM

Santa Anita cuts overnight purses

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INGLEWOOD, Calif. - Fearing a downturn in mutuel handle because of poor economic conditions, Santa Anita has cut overnight purses by approximately 10 percent for its winter-spring meeting that begins Dec. 26.

The purse reduction is the latest in a string of stinging cuts for Southern California horsemen in recent months. During the summer, Del Mar cut purses. At the current Hollywood Park meeting, purses were cut before the meeting began Oct. 29 and twice since.

Santa Anita director of racing Mike Harlow said the cuts at the winter meeting will be less severe for maiden special weight races and allowance races than they will be for other overnight races, such as maiden claiming races or claiming races.

"The maiden claimers as well as the claiming races were a full 10 percent," he said. "Maiden and allowance races were slightly less than 10 percent. We run more of the maiden claimers, the cheaper races, then the others, so that's where the combined 10 percent comes into play."

For the upcoming meeting, maiden special weight races around two turns will have a $46,000 purse. At the start of the 2007-08 meeting, the same race was worth $50,000. For the upcoming meeting, a first-condition allowance race for sprinters will have a purse of $48,000, while a similar race around two turns will be worth $52,000. At the 2007-08 meeting, those purses began at levels of $52,000 and $57,000, respectively.

"Considering the rest of the country, I think we're still very competitive," Harlow said. "The economic conditions everyone is seeing are declining. The ontrack numbers and the in-state numbers are what we're worried about."

Harlow said Santa Anita officials pondered the purse levels through the autumn, assessing the economic conditions as well as a dispute over the distribution of account-wagering revenue. The dispute was solved in late November and will not affect the Santa Anita meeting.

"We took longer to look at the numbers than we normally do," he said. "We wanted to see what was going on in the racing world.

"The downturns are hard to predict. When business is good, it's nice to talk about purse increases. Six months ago, did anyone know the economy would be as bad it would be?"

Harlow is predicting a strong start, at least at the entry box. Canadian trainers Reade Baker and Mark Casse will have horses at Santa Anita this winter. Conversely, trainer Jeff Mullins has shifted 20 horses from his massive stable to Sunland Park in New Mexico.

"You've got to be optimistic," he said. "I've got indications that trainers are loaded for the first book. If we put together the numbers [in the fields], will the fans bet? That's the question."

Nakatani set for first stakes mount of comeback

Jockey Corey Nakatani, who has not ridden since Sept. 24 because of a collarbone injury, was scheduled to return to riding Friday with two mounts on the eight-race program.

The first stakes ride of his comeback occurs Saturday when the maiden Black Magic Mama starts in the Grade 1 Hollywood Starlet Stakes. It will be the first time that Nakatani has ridden Black Magic Mama, who is owned by Paul Reddam and trained by Doug O'Neill, a team Nakatani is closely allied with.

Nakatani suffered a collarbone injury in a spill at Santa Anita in September. He had hoped to return in time for the Breeders' Cup in late October, but was advised by doctors to give his shoulder more time. The September injury was the second time in the last 12 months that Nakatani had broken his collarbone.

"I needed time to heal," he said. "It broke in the same area that is broke in January and I separated my ankle a little bit. I was trying to make it back for the Breeders' Cup. The doctor said, 'If you try to go back too early, it won't be ready. It won't heal.' "

Nakatani said his body was telling him to stay on the sidelines.

"I couldn't lift my arm up," he said. "I said, 'It's better to be safe than sorry.' "

By returning in mid-December, Nakatani is hoping to regain full fitness in time for the start of the Santa Anita meeting. He recently hired Vince DeGregory to represent him. DeGregory replaces Ron Ebanks as Nakatani's agent.

Feisty Suances eyeing Breeders' Champion

Feisty Suances, unbeaten in three starts, is likely to make his stakes debut in the $125,000 California Breeders' Champion Stakes for statebreds at Santa Anita on Dec. 26, trainer Darrell Vienna said earlier this week.

Owned by Red Baron's Stable, Feisty Suances was considered for the $750,000 CashCall Futurity at Hollywood Park on Dec.o20. Feisty Suances has won a maiden claimer, a starter allowance, and an allowance race on Nov. 23 in his career.

The Grade 1 CashCall Futurity is the last race at that level for 2-year-old males this year. The field is expected to include Axel Foley, Azul Leon, Backbackbackgone, Bittel Road, Chocolate Candy, I Want Revenge, Hype, and Pioneerof the Nile.

Pioneerof the Nile was fifth in the Breeders' Cup Juvenile at Santa Anita on Oct. 24.

Axel Foley is in England and is scheduled to arrive in California on Monday. He has one victory in two starts, winning a maiden race on the all-weather surface at Lingfield on Oct. 15.

I Want Revenge, winner of a maiden race here in November, worked seven furlongs in 1:25.20 on Thursday at Hollywood Park.

Santa Anita to offer free Friday admission

In an effort to increase attendance at its upcoming meeting, Santa Anita has announced two promotions for ontrack customers.

The track will offer free general admission on Fridays, with the exception of opening day, Friday, Dec. 26. On all Fridays other than opening day, some box seats will be available free on a first-come, first-serve basis.

On Dec. 26, a paid admission will earn customers four free passes for the rest of the meeting, which continues through April 19 - two of which must be redeemed on Jan. 24, the Sunshine Millions program, and two for any other day of the meeting.