12/27/2010 3:26PM

Weather hurt opening day handle


ARCADIA, Calif. – The combination of poor weather on the Eastern Seaboard, one fewer race, and the switch of a stakes from the turf course to the main track led to a sizeable drop in all-sources handle on Sunday’s opening day of the Santa Anita winter-spring meeting.

The all-sources handle of $11,707,276 was down of 23.6 percent compared to 2009, when the meeting opened on a Saturday, a more popular day for racegoers. The figure includes handle ontrack, at simulcast locations through California and the nation, and at account-wagering outlets. Sunday’s ontrack handle was $3,851,594, a decline of 15 percent from 2009.

Track president George Haines said the storms on the East Coast on Sunday hurt handle because people stayed home rather than bet at simulcast outlets. “They had the big storm and we knew we were going to get killed back there,” he said.

The track ran nine races on Sunday compared to 10 races on opening day last year. In addition, Sunday’s races were run on the main track after overnight rain led two races to be transferred from turf. One turf race, the $150,000 Sir Beaufort Stakes, went from a field of nine to a field of five, and was won by the heavily favored Sidney’s Candy.

Haines said Sunday’s handle was up 2 percent through six races, but did not recover after the Sir Beaufort Stakes.

“When the turf race was switched to the main track, it was like a bomb,” he said.

Sunday’s ontrack crowd of 34,268 marked a decline of 4 percent over 2009, but an increase over the opening days in the three previous years.

Haines said Sunday’s crowd was held down by early morning rains.

“Given what were facing in terms of the weather, we were very pleased,” he said.

Sunday’s ontrack crowd was 7.5 percent higher than the 2004 opening, the last on a Sunday. Santa Anita has opened its winter-spring meeting on Dec. 26 annually since 1977. Sunday’s crowd was 4 percent higher than the 2006 opener, which came on a Tuesday; 14 percent higher than 2007, on a Wednesday; and 3 percent higher than 2008, on a Friday.

Sunday’s program was the first for the new sand-and-clay surface, which was installed in November. The new surface, installed at a cost of $3 million, replaced a troubled synthetic track that failed to drain sufficiently in wet weather.

The new surface, which endured more than 14 inches of rain from Dec. 17 through Sunday, produced two track records on Sunday.