10/19/2011 4:24PM

Santa Anita's business strong in meet's first half

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ARCADIA, Calif. – The Santa Anita autumn meeting reached the halfway point on Monday with business figures that suggest a retroactive purse payment is possible at the end of the meeting, the track’s president, George Haines, said on Wednesday.

Haines said that the current meeting has shown a 5-percent increase in handle compared to the 2009 Oak Tree meeting, the last time a fall meeting was held at Santa Anita. In 2010, the Oak Tree racing association conducted a fall meeting at Hollywood Park. Oak Tree and Santa Anita both vied to operate racing days this fall, with the California Horse Racing Board awarding the dates to Santa Anita earlier this year.

The current meeting runs through Nov. 6, and still includes the California Cup program on Oct. 29 and the simulcast of the Breeders’ Cup races from Churchill Downs on Nov. 4-5, days that often produce lucrative handle figures.

Haines said the purse pool is “slightly underpaid.”

An assessment on purse levels will be made after the meeting. If an underpayment exists by several hundred thousand dollars, typically $400,000 to $500,000, a retroactive payment is made. The Hollywood Park spring-summer meeting and Del Mar meeting earlier this year, both had retroactive purse payments. If the figure is less than $400,000, the monies are carried over to next year’s meeting.

“We’re obligated to reach a certain plateau and then we would pay a retroactive payment,” Haines said. “I think it could be feasible if we can keep the momentum. We’re sure hoping to.”

Haines said that handle has increased 45-percent ontrack compared with similar dates at the 2010 Oak Tree at Hollywood Park meeting.

Field sizes have increased. Through Sunday, the 12th day of the 24-day meeting, fields averaged 8.97 runners per race, compared to 7.63 for the much longer Santa Anita winter-spring meeting earlier this year. The Oak Tree at Hollywood Park fall meeting last year averaged 7.42 runners, while the 2009 Oak Tree at Santa Anita meeting averaged 8.06 runners per race.

New claim goes out for O’Neill

Matto Mondo, third in the 2009 Santa Anita Handicap, starts for trainer Doug O’Neill for the first time in an allowance race on Friday, having been claimed from trainer Richard Mandella for $62,500 on Sept. 30.

The acquisition follows a year-long trend for O’Neill, who has claimed seven horses from Mandella this year. Mandella does not typically start many claimers. He has had 10 horses claimed from his stable this year.

The group taken by O’Neill ranges in class from Separate Forest, who was claimed for $25,000 in January and has since won a graded stakes and placed in three other stakes, to Naturaliste, who was claimed for $20,000 from a maiden race and finished second in a $5,000 claimer at Fairplex Park last month. Two of the horses O’Neill claimed from Mandella were later claimed again.

“They look good in the paddock and they were in a place where we thought they were worth the money,” O’Neill said of Mandella’s claimers.

Matto Mondo won a one-mile turf race on Sept. 30. “He’s a wonderful horse to be around,” O’Neill said. “There is other speed in there. I’m hoping he can sit just off the pace. Hopefully he can pick them up.”