09/24/2014 11:56AM

Santa Anita meet opens with flurry of stakes over first two weekends

Shigeki Kikkawa
Pacific Classic winner Shared Belief will be favored Saturday in the Awesome Again Stakes, one of 14 stakes in the first two weekends at Santa Anita Park's fall meeting.

ARCADIA, Calif. – It starts with a flourish, with 14 stakes over two weekends, and ends in early November as the focus of the racing world. The highly anticipated Santa Anita autumn meeting begins Friday with a nine-race program, leading up to Breeders’ Cup weekend Oct. 31 and Nov. 1.

Similar to last year, Santa Anita has changed a bit over the summer. For the second consecutive year, capital improvements were made in the grandstand and clubhouse, with additional upgrades to the turf terrace dining section of the clubhouse, an expanded number of suites overlooking the racetrack, and the development of a sports bar in a section of the clubhouse seldom used in recent years.

“It’s one of the greatest views of a sports bar possible,” track chairman Keith Brackpool said this week.

All of that provides better viewing of racing, which will be conducted on a new dirt surface installed in July and August. The surface has been used for training since Sept. 1 and has drawn positive reviews from trainers.

The new surface and the turf course will be tested in important races over the 25-day season, which runs through Nov. 2. Beginning Friday with the $100,000 Eddie D Stakes on the hillside turf course, there are 14 stakes through Oct. 5, 12 of which are preps for Breeders’ Cup races.

Saturday’s program includes five Grade 1 races, each worth $300,000, led by the Awesome Again Stakes for older horses. Shared Belief, the unbeaten 3-year-old, will be favored to win for the seventh time in his career and can prove that he deserves to be favored in the $5 million BC Classic on Nov. 1.

For Los Angeles sports fans, there is more than just racing Saturday. Members of the Los Angeles Kings will be in attendance with the coveted Stanley Cup that they won for the second time in team history in June.

Through October, track officials are hopeful that the improvements and good racing will draw customers to the track after the Breeders’ Cup preps and before the championship races are run at the end of the meeting.

“It’s kind of exciting because it’s a short meet,” track president Tom Ludt said. “We hope we’ll get off on a roll. We’re excited to open the new track. It looks like a great opening day.”

:: BREEDERS’ CUP CHALLENGE DAY: Get PPs, watch Saturday's card live

The race meeting was originally scheduled for 23 days, but two days have been added – Oct. 16 and Oct. 29. Last year, the autumn meeting was 24 days and had mixed business results – with ontrack average attendance falling 3.8 percent to 9,520 but average all-sources handle improving 11.4 percent to $15,895,283.

A second round of improvements to the facilities could help reverse that attendance decline.

“All of us in racing have complained that our facilities aren’t what they need to be to attract additional crowds,” Brackpool said. “Our job in the next 12 to 24 months is to see the additional crowds. I think we’re moving in the right direction.”

Competitive racing plays a paramount role in that success. Friday’s nine-race program drew 94 runners, although six are on also-eligible lists. Racing secretary Rick Hammerle expects strong support through the meeting, not just for early stakes and Breeders’ Cup races but also for overnight races. Last year, the track averaged 8.95 runners per race, virtually the same as the 2012 meeting.

“I know we have more horses here than in the last three, four, or five years,” he said. “A lot of people are coming in asking for stalls, and the stall applications are better than they were.”

Chris Lowe More than 1 year ago
Who wants a great view of the sports bar at a racetrack? Mr. Blackpool has taken elocution lessons from Yoda, evidently.
Class_of_78 More than 1 year ago
Another season of BS fraud racing begins in sunny SoCal. Watch out for those sleepers and the Mr T Bird's, especially the Mr T Bird's, just ask David Flores, oh no he is still hiding in Singapor, LOL. Good luck at the "Great Fraud Place" I am now cashing and enjoying good class racing in UK, best racing in the world right now. Enough of SoCal 40 plus years is enough and the down swing is just too much to bear, too corrupt. Good day, laddies.
Big Jeff More than 1 year ago
Good riddance lassie
jon g More than 1 year ago
Nobody likes little jeff. bitter little man
Chas More than 1 year ago
All the improvements will cost us fans $$$ to use...Brackpool is certainly making the track look very nice and more enjoyable, but, he is doing at our expense...Brackpool does not care the regular fan who shows up and has endure lousy and cheap accomdations for yrs...Brackpool wants the 'new, young, money to spend fan who has never been to the track before' to spend $$$ to visit the new places at the track....and those of us who are what is the fan base can just cough up the more money or hang out on front stretch or better yet wager from home...that's what Brackpool is and the direction the great place is heading to..
Walt Gekko More than 1 year ago
That "new, young" money is very important to the sport's future. You are dealing with a group in "The Millennials" (those born after 1980) who are much more demanding than earlier generations ever were. Horse Racing is facing the same problem baseball is in reaching younger people and the sport has to change in order to do so.
Steve More than 1 year ago
My understanding is that all the improvements are in the Clubhouse which has a $10 Admission. Most of the attendees won't be able to see or enjoy the upgrades
Big Jeff More than 1 year ago
If you don't have 10, dollars to get in the clubhouse, then why are you at the track in the first place. Not that you need a huge bankroll, but if ten dollars is stopping you from something, then this may not be the place for you. ( Not you directly, Steve, but in general.
jon g More than 1 year ago
Hey little man,who wants to spend $10 for the clubhouse. i'd rather use that for a DD
Standiforx More than 1 year ago
It's only $5 if you sign up for the Thoroughbreds Membership Card (which is free.)
Saw Mill Worker More than 1 year ago
What's going to be interesting is the "flurry" of comments about the turf course after the weekend.
Class_of_78 More than 1 year ago
Chad mc rory More than 1 year ago
Where is Mandella "at" on the sale of Beholder?
Frank Reach More than 1 year ago
The winner of the BC Classic will come out of the Awesome Again Stakes. Think it's going to be Shared Belief? Yep....me too.
Mikethemessenger465 More than 1 year ago
Your first statement implies the second. Shared Belief is the only one in that field with a prayer in the BC Classic.
Robert More than 1 year ago
Wake me up when they lower the takeout, until then the price of poker is too high.
Ryan Soriano More than 1 year ago
Wonderful to see that management is putting money into the great race place to enhance the experience for the fans !!