09/25/2013 4:58PM

Santa Anita: Renovations spice up Breeders' Cup meeting

Benoit & Associates
Fans opening day will be greeted by a newly renovated mezzanine (above) and other improvements.

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ARCADIA, Calif. – Get comfortable.

Starting Friday, approximately seven of the next nine months of Thoroughbred racing in Southern California will be held at Santa Anita, which opens a 24-day autumn meeting on Friday highlighted by the Breeders’ Cup races on Nov. 1-2. The six-week season will present a mix of familiar and new elements for racing fans who have made the picturesque racetrack one of the most popular in the United States.

The racing itself is similar to past seasons, with the first two weekends dominated by major prep races for the Breeders’ Cup, which is being held at Santa Anita this year for the fourth time since 2008. Saturday’s program is exceptional, with five Grade 1 races certain to produce prominent Breeders’ Cup runners.

It is the setting for those races that has undergone changes.

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Over the summer, the track underwent a renovation to sections of the grandstand and clubhouse which will see plenty of use in coming years.

With the closure of Betfair Hollywood Park in late December for development, Santa Anita will have an expanded role on the Southern California Thoroughbred circuit. The winter-spring meeting, which has typically ended in late April, will be extended to late June next year.

The summertime refurbishment had a price tag of approximately $15 million.

The interior of the mezzanine level has been brightened considerably. Gone is a design that looked like a holdover from the late 1970s, replaced with new food options, a horseshoe-shaped bar in the middle of the room, a massive upgrade in the quality and number of televisions, and a more open feel to betting areas.

In the box seats and clubhouse dining sections, tables and seating have been replaced, and the director’s room has been expanded to improve viewing. The clubhouse dining area has been expanded to include a section just past the finish line – previously free seating – with an outstanding view of the stretch run.

In the interior of the clubhouse, a sports bar and a remodeling of the Chandelier Room are still under way, with the goal of having those areas fully ready by the Breeders’ Cup.

Tuesday, during a press tour of the grandstand improvements, track chairman Keith Brackpool said he is hopeful the changes will appeal to all levels of racing fans.

“If you’re an owner, it’s the thrill of being here that makes the experience,” Brackpool said. “If you’re a casual fan, it has to be far more entertaining than it is to sit at home.”

Brackpool hopes the changes at Santa Anita will contribute to repeat visitors, and not just customers lured by once-a-season promotions.

The test will come during the next month. Top racing days, such as Saturday or Breeders’ Cup weekend, draw large crowds, but an uptick in audiences on weekdays or during quieter weekends will show whether the improvements have had an immediate effect.

“In the last 20 years, California has done a very good job of getting people to the track for the first time,” Brackpool said. “We’ve done an appalling job of getting them to come a second time.”

The fields are large on Friday, with 107 horses over nine races, including two races with also-eligible lists. The day’s top race is the $100,000 Eddie D Stakes on the hillside turf course.

Racing secretary Rick Hammerle estimates there are approximately 3,000 Thoroughbreds in training in Southern California. “Whatever the number is, I think it’s healthier than what it’s been in the last few years,” Hammerle said.

Hammerle hopes to build on a successful Del Mar summer meeting, which saw a rise in average field size from 8.66 runners in 2012 to 8.79 this year.

“People have horses to run,” Hammerle said. “We hope it continues. It should give us some momentum. I anticipate getting off to a good start.”

Forego137 More than 1 year ago
They have the worst customer service in the industry, don't judge the book by it's cover, it may look good on the outside but when you get inside is when the nightmare begins, the catering to only certain guest the out dated bathrooms that smell real bad the rude attitude by the people serving at the bars or food servers but those at the betting window who take in our bets are the worst, they act as if we are bothering them and only know one speed and that is SLOW. And the biggest issue of all is the racing surface that caters to speed for every race and heaven forbid if it rains. Paint and shuffling of seating areas that were free are now seating for eating only. Get new personal that want to be there is one way to get fans back and get that racing surface to where it plays to all type of running styles and quit trying to mask the problems with paint.
Justin Time More than 1 year ago
As usual Madna executives are very good at blowing smoke. Unfortunately their treatment of racing fans has not exactly been something to write about;. By his own admission Mr. Brackpool has declared that efforts trying to attract the racing fan for a second visit was. appalling. Perhaps asking them for an opinion the first time around would work rather than trying to gouge every cent from them.
David More than 1 year ago
so many problems its doubtful they all were addressed, the personal betting machines are over 20 years old, the restrooms are far older than that, and the customer service is horrible! it will take far more than a coat of paint too fix it.
Greg Scherr More than 1 year ago
do you really need a NEW urinal to pee? I want betting terminals at every box like they have available at the Front Runner, deposit $$$ at beginning of the day, play all day, cash out when you leave with either a voucher OR cash from a teller
a a More than 1 year ago
Why would you expect service like that? Wouldn't that imply they want you to come to the track instead of staying home?
Patricia Doyle More than 1 year ago
There are senior citizens like myself who don't have a large enough deposit to play all day. I go with a gambler's share of maybe 10 or 20 dollars and play all day from the winnings of each race, i.e. on a good day. So, a cash deposit system would be good as an added service but still have the tellers for those of us who collect our winnings and play another race from that. Maybe incentive for bettors would bring people out. Offer benefits that are only available at the track and not to other forms of wagering.
Rachel Satterfield - Masen More than 1 year ago
If you think Santa Anita is bad...try Churchill Downs. It's a dump.
Randy Atkins More than 1 year ago
they should take some of that money they're spending and invest in another turf course so they won't wear out the one they got
a a More than 1 year ago
Do you have any idea where they would build it genius?
Patricia Doyle More than 1 year ago
I echo your same sentiment, where would they put it? Just like Delmar development has grown up all around the track. Well, they can tear up the golf course and civic center I suppose? lol. People just don't realize that development has encircled these race tracks and the tracks cannot enlarge. Well, maybe out in the Dakotas or Minnesota but Southern California and on the east coast fagedabout it.