12/26/2012 8:18PM

Santa Anita: Gray day turns bright - especially for Mandella and Co.

Benoit & Associates
Gary Mandella and Rafael Bejarano celebrate Silentio's victory in the Grade 2 Sir Beaufort.

ARCADIA, Calif. – Christmas came a day late for the Mandellas.

Santa Anita opened on Wednesday, and it was time to unwrap the presents for Richard Mandella, son Gary, and former assistant Dan Hendricks, trainers all. Richard won the Grade 1 Malibu Stakes with Jimmy Creed, Gary sent out Silentio to victory in the Sir Beaufort Stakes, and Hendricks got a stocking stuffer with Rintoo in the seventh.

“It means a lot,” Richard Mandella said in the winner’s circle after the Malibu. “Great day. It doesn’t get much better than that.”

It was a day that dawned with rain and a track that Mandella could not train over in the morning. “But it turned out nice,” he said.

Two of the day’s three grass races had to be moved to a main track that was in excellent condition despite the overnight weather. It was wet-fast, and produced times that were faster than par, including the early splits in the Grade 1 La Brea, in which heavily favored My Miss Aurelia finished third to Book Review after attending a wicked pace.

The rain likely impacted the ontrack crowd, because it was still rainy and cloudy in the morning, but those who ventured out were treated to a gorgeous afternoon, complete with terrific racing. Jockey Rafael Bejarano won four races, including the La Brea with Book Review.

Santa Anita’s opener, which includes a wall calendar giveaway, came after a refreshing 10-day break for Thoroughbred racing in Southern California. The ontrack attendance of 27,273 was down 9.1 percent from the last time Santa Anita opened on a Wednesday, in 2007. Last year’s attendance, on a Monday in ideal weather, was 44,579.

The overall handle Wednesday was $13,494,676, a decrease of 13.1 percent from last year’s $15,531,307. Overall handle includes on-track, off-track sites in Northern and Southern California, and advance deposit wagering sites.

“For opening on a Wednesday, we had a great crowd,” said George Haines, the president and general manager of Santa Anita. “It was a very enthusiastic crowd. People seemed happy to be here. We had great racing. I’m very happy with how everything turned out, considering what it was like here from 3 in the morning until 7.”

The day had moments of great joy and poignancy.

Martin Pedroza, a 30-year veteran on this circuit, punched out the 3,500th win of his career in the second race aboard Stoneside.

Minutes after that race, a moment of silence was observed for actor and horse owner Jack Klugman, who died on Monday.

Gene Simmons, a member of the rock group KISS and a friend of the Stronach family, which owns Santa Anita, was out and about greeting fans both in the morning and then at the afternoon’s races, when he presented the trophy following the Malibu. Although he has no official title, Simmons is clearly acting in an advisory capacity with the track, seeking to raise its profile in the clutter of sports marketing, and judging by the reaction of fans who wanted autographs and took pictures of Simmons, he certainly has celebrity cachet.