01/15/2010 12:00AM

Santa Anita weighs fewer races


ARCADIA, Calif. - Santa Anita is considering reducing its racing calendar at the current winter-spring meeting, with the possibility of running fewer races per day or one fewer day per week. The track is considering the measure because of a shortage of race-ready horses.

The track's president, Ron Charles, said on Friday that Santa Anita is concerned about field size after eight-race programs on Wednesday and Thursday drew 52 and 49 starters, respectively. Those programs averaged 6.5 and 6.1 starters per race.

Track officials are considering reducing the racing week from five days to four, cutting weekday programs back from eight races per day to seven, or leaving the schedule at its current format.

Charles said discussions will be held with owners and trainers to determine whether a change in the schedule is necessary. A decision could be made within a week.

Santa Anita will run through the Monday holiday this week, take off Tuesday and Wednesday, and run four days from Thursday through next Sunday. Field sizes through next Sunday will determine whether a change is needed, Charles said. The meeting is scheduled to run through April 18.

"We'll have a better grasp of it next week," Charles said. "Everyone is concerned about field size and how that will play out. We'll know what fields are with the six-day week this week. I'd like to get through this week before we make any decisions."

Complicating matters is the threat of wet weather beginning Monday, which could result in races being taken off the turf, or horses being scratched by trainers who don't want to run them on a wet track.

Through Thursday, the 15th day of the 83-day meeting, fields have averaged 7.8 starters per race, down from 8.4 starters per race over the similar period during the 2008-09 meeting. For the entire 2008-09 meeting, the track averaged 8.2 runners per race. The more starters per races, the more attractive races are to bettors, leading to higher handle.

"The concern is that we keep a product out there that bettors want," Charles said.

Going to a seven-race program on weekdays would be a new way of dealing with horse shortage issues.

"It might be a step," Charles said. "We'll talk to the owners and trainers and see if anything will help."

Last spring, Hollywood Park reduced its racing calendar from five days a week to four days after the first month of its spring-summer meeting, citing a shortage of race-ready horses. The track eliminated nine Wednesday programs in May, June, and July. Last fall, Hollywood Park cut four days out of fall meeting before the season started but cut no further dates once the meeting began. The Hollywood Park fall meeting had 7.5 starters per race, down slightly from the 2008 average of 7.7 starters.

Charles said ontrack handle is down 10 percent and that the Southern California intertrack network is down a "little less."

"It's kind of where we thought going into the meet," he said.

In addition, out-of-state handle has been hurt by the absence of a simulcasting agreement between a group of simulcast sites in Mid-Atlantic states and TrackNet Media, which negotiates simulcast signals on behalf of tracks owned by Magna Entertainment and Churchill Downs Inc. Santa Anita is owned by Magna Entertainment.