09/26/2012 3:25PM

Santa Anita meet starts strong, builds to Breeders' Cup

Benoit & Associates
The Santa Anita autumn meet begins with the Grade 3 Eddie D Stakes on Friday and five Grade 1 stakes on Saturday.

ARCADIA, Calif. – With anticipation high for the Breeders’ Cup races on Nov. 2-3, the six-week autumn meeting that begins at Santa Anita on Friday will fly by.

Santa Anita will host the Breeders’ Cup for the sixth time this year, and the focus will be on those two days.

The three-day opening weekend features seven graded stakes with Breeders’ Cup implications, including five Grade 1 stakes Saturday. The weekend of Oct. 6-8 includes six more stakes that are preps for Breeders’ Cup races.

SANTA ANITA: Get opening-day PPs and watch the full card live

Santa Anita racing secretary Rick Hammerle used an auto racing analogy Wednesday to reflect on how the track’s fall meeting begins with so many major stakes.

“We pull a Daytona 500 and start the meet with our biggest races,” he said, referring to the February race that kicks off the NASCAR season.

“It’s going to be great in the next two weeks. We’ll see a lot of horses that will run in the Breeders’ Cup.”

While the Breeders’ Cup and the associated prep races are the focus of the meeting, the season includes other major days, notably the California Cup program Oct. 13.

Track president George Haines said a crowd of at least 18,000 is expected Saturday on what should be a warm day, with highs expected in the low 90s. Such warm weather is typical for late September and early October at Santa Anita.

“That would be a good start,” Haines said.

The five Grade 1 stakes with Breeders’ Cup implications Saturday are the Awesome Again, Chandelier, FrontRunner, Rodeo Drive, and Zenyatta stakes.

In the past, the races were run as the Goodwood, Oak Leaf, Norfolk, Yellow Ribbon, and Lady’s Secret Stakes when the Oak Tree Racing Association either ran the fall meeting at Santa Anita or, in 2011, reached a financial arrangement with Santa Anita management for use of the race names.

No such agreement was reached this year, resulting in the renaming of those stakes and several other races through the Nov. 4 closing day. The upcoming meeting will be the first time that the Breeders’ Cup has been run at Santa Anita with Oak Tree not operating the meeting.

Santa Anita has not raced since the conclusion of its spring-summer meeting in April. Since then, the racetrack was closed briefly for summertime renovations, which included the addition of 1,000 tons of “pure sand,” according to Haines.

The addition of such material will be an annual event because of erosion caused by horse and tractor traffic, he said.

“We did a lot of testing,” he said.

Friday’s nine-race program begins at 1 p.m. and includes the first running of the $100,000 Eddie D Stakes on the hillside turf course. The race honors retired Hall of Fame jockey Eddie Delahoussaye, who won 6,384 races in a career that spanned 1968-2003. Friday will be Eddie Delahoussaye Day in Arcadia.

Friday’s program was strongly supported by owners and trainers, with 97 horses entered. Earlier this year, field sizes showed growth at Del Mar.

The Del Mar meeting and the Los Angeles County Fair meeting at Fairplex Park that ended last weekend showed growth in all-sources handle compared to 2011, a trend that Santa Anita officials hope will continue.

“If we can have the same participation, then we’ll do well,” Hammerle said. “The break in general for a lot of stables during the fair will be great for this meeting. I think we’ll have a good meet, especially at the start.”