03/03/2011 6:02PM

Santa Anita officials expect big crowd for Big Cap card

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Saturday’s ontrack audience for the 11-race program featuring the Santa Anita Handicap is expected to surpass last year’s figure of 24,201, and track president George Haines said on Thursday that number could be significantly higher.

“I think we’ll be in the mid-20,000 or upper 20,000s,” Haines said. “But I’m naturally conservative. I’d like to see more. We’re looking good with the weather.”

The forecast for Saturday is for clear skies and high temperature around 77. Last year, the weather nearly did not cooperate, with rain the preceding day and concern over whether the synthetic track used at the time would drain sufficiently. The synthetic track has since been replaced with a sand-and-clay track.

In 2009, the ontrack crowd on Santa Anita Handicap day was 31,496.

Saturday’s card, which starts at noon Pacific, features a late pick four with a guaranteed pool of $500,000. There are four stakes, including three Grade 1 races.

“I think we have a strong program,” Haines said.