02/18/2008 1:00AM

Santa Anita feels bite


ARCADIA, Calif. - With the loss of 11 days of racing to wet conditions and subsequent drainage problems with its synthetic surface, Santa Anita suffered a 26 percent drop in business in the first half of the track's winter-spring meeting. The meeting began Dec. 26, 2007 and runs through April 20.

According to figures released to the media on a daily basis, Santa Anita had an all-sources total handle of $316,963,086 through Sunday, the meet's 30th day of racing. By comparison, the track handled $427,710,665 over 40 days of racing in a similar period in the 2006-07 meeting. On a daily average, handle slipped 1.2 percent.

There was a 29 percent drop in total ontrack attendance. Through Sunday, the overall attendance was 244,009 over 30 days, compared to 343,890 over 40 days for 2006-07, an average daily decline of nearly 6 percent.

There have been no interruptions to the racing schedule since the track underwent a five-day renovation period from Feb. 4-8.

Track officials are hopeful that the addition of several makeup days and an upcoming advertising campaign can salvage the meeting.

"The first thing we need to do is restore the confidence in the fan and the industry that we are going to be racing on an everyday basis," said the track's president, Ron Charles. "I still think we're having a hard time getting the message out. We're still getting a lot of calls asking if we're open."

Charles said that Santa Anita plans "to intensify our television marketing." Two major events that drew large crowds last year have yet to be run - the Santa Anita Handicap program on March 1 and the Santa Anita Derby program on April 5.

"It's been a tough first month and a half," Charles said. "All we can do is hope we can turn it around."

Santa Anita has added three make-up days - last Wednesday, this Wednesday, and Wednesday, Feb. 27 - and will ask the California Horse Racing Board for additional days at a meeting on Feb. 28. Charles declined to detail the proposed plans.

"There is a good chance we will be picking up a number of Wednesdays," Charles said. "We're trying to regain some momentum for what we consider the premier meet in the winter."

The integrity of the surface remains a concern. Since the synthetic surface was renovated, adding elements of the Australian synthetic surface Pro-Ride to the existing Cushion Track surface, only a quarter-inch of rain has fallen. The track drained successfully after that, but the amount of rain was minor compared with previous storms.

There is a possibility of more rain later this week, which could test the course.

"I'll feel a lot better when we've had another storm," Charles said. "To say we're 100 percent confident - I'm not there."