04/23/2014 12:48PM

Santa Anita set for first spring-summer meet

Barbara D. Livingston
A statue of John Henry overlooks the entrance to Santa Anita, which opens for its first spring-summer meet on Friday.

ARCADIA, Calif. – A new era begins at Santa Anita at 3 p.m. Pacific on Friday. The racetrack will launch its first spring-summer meeting, racing during dates previously held by Hollywood Park, which closed last December.

For fans of live racing at Santa Anita, the spring-summer meeting will mean more of the same. The track closed its winter-spring meeting only last Sunday and will race an additional 40 days through June 29. The two combined seasons are the longest stretch of live racing in the history of the 80-year-old venue.

Keeping the interest of racing fans – and avoiding venue fatigue – for the upcoming season is foremost on the mind of Tom Ludt, who took over as track president in March.

“It’s a challenge of marketing and creativity to get people to come to the track with six months in the same place,” he said.

To do so, Santa Anita has made some changes.

Post times on most Fridays will be 3 p.m., an effort to lure an audience ready to leave work early and get a head start on the weekend. Those programs are expected to end around 6:30 p.m. One exception will be May 2, when racing begins at 12:30 p.m. to accommodate the simulcast of the Kentucky Oaks program from Churchill Downs.

On weekends, admission to the infield will be free, with track officials hoping to entice families and casual fans. To gain free admission to the infield, customers must enter via Gate 6, off Colorado Place.

“We want to get people out,” Ludt said. “The feedback has been great. We’ll see if that translates into people coming out. We want to create an environment. People started going to the races with their dads. It’s a long-term plan to get families coming out here – throw a towel down, have a picnic, and have fun.”

On the racetrack, the product will be largely unchanged from the winter-spring meeting. Jockeys Rafael Bejarano, Joe Talamo, and Tyler Baze and trainers Jerry Hollendorfer, John Sadler, and Bob Baffert are expected to top the standings in their respective divisions, as they did at the winter-spring meeting. Game On Dude, who won the Santa Anita Handicap in March, is a leading candidate in stakes for older horses.

Santa Anita will host live racing on the Triple Crown days of the Kentucky Derby on May 3, Preakness Stakes on May 17, and Belmont Stakes on June 7, afternoons expected to be the best attended of the season.

Many stakes from past Hollywood Park spring-summer meetings will be run during this meeting, some with different names.

The $500,000 Gold Cup at Santa Anita on June 28, the richest race of the meeting, was run as the Hollywood Gold Cup in past years. The American Oaks, Gamely Stakes, Shoemaker Mile, Vanity Stakes, and Charles Whittingham Stakes have kept the same names and conditions.

Six months of racing between late December and late June will take a toll on the turf course, but racing secretary Rick Hammerle expects no disruption to the turf racing program. He noted that the abbreviated schedule at the end of the winter-spring meet gave him a chance to rest the course.

“I feel confident that the turf course will be in excellent shape,” he said. “The break we’ve had has allowed us to do some maintenance.”

Friday’s first race is a maiden race for 2-year-old fillies over 4 1/2 furlongs. The meet’s 2-year-old program leads to two $125,000 stakes June 22, the Santa Anita Juvenile and the Landaluce.

For bettors, one significant change will be the resumption of $2 rolling doubles, beginning with the first race through the second-to-last race each day. Rolling doubles were not offered at the winter-spring meeting, replaced by three daily doubles per day with a reduced takeout of 18 percent.

For the spring-summer meeting, the rolling doubles will have an 18 percent takeout, down from 22.68 percent when last offered at the 2013 autumn meeting.