The day after Christmas is always a big day for the racing industry as Santa Anita traditionally kicks off its primary meet. But the 77th winter/spring meeting at the Great Race Place carries with it an extra level of anticipation due to the changing circumstances in California racing.
The closure of Betfair Hollywood Park will result in a substantial shift in the calendar and more responsibility for Santa Anita, which has picked up the spring dates previously held by the Inglewood venue. Santa Anita will race from Dec. 26 to April 20 but then start back up five days later and run through June 29, mostly Thursdays through Sundays.
Thursday's nine-race program begins at noon, PT. There will be a guaranteed $500,000 pool for the late Pick 4, and three separate 18 percent-takeout Daily Doubles – wagers that will be available each day throughout both meets. Santa Anita has been offering Daily Doubles since 1961.
“After consulting with many of our best customers and the TOC, we felt it was time to make some ‘player-friendly' adjustments to this iconic wager,” said Tom Ludt, Santa Anita Senior Vice President, Racing and Gaming. “Lowering the takeout to 18 percent is obviously something that everyone is in favor of. Additionally, by offering three Doubles per day, we're confident we're going to see a significant increase in pool sizes that will result in bigger payoffs–which is why the vast majority of our customers come out to the races.”
Santa Anita's overall wagering menu will again include the “Players' Pick 5,” a popular 14 percent-takeout wager with a 50-cent minimum. The “Players' Pick 5” requires players to select the winners of the first five races on each day's card.
Opening day will also feature three graded stakes races – the Grade 1, $300,000 La Brea Stakes for 3-year-old fillies at seven furlongs, the G1, $300,000 Malibu Stakes for 3-year-olds also going seven furlongs, and the G2, $200,000 Sir Beaufort Stakes for 3-year-olds at a mile on the turf.
The opening day stakes have attracted East Coast-based riders Joel Rosario and Javier Castellano. Jockey Tyler Baze is set to return to action Jan. 1 following a suspension in June because he failed a sobriety test.
While the 2014 racing schedule will look quite a bit different without Hollywood Park in the mix – Del Mar is also picking up additional dates – Southern California-based trainers are hoping for the best.
“We'll just have to see how it plays out,” said Bob Baffert. “This meet starts out strong, then it hits a lull, but every year at the end of the meet, it seems to pick up again, like people can't get enough of it.
“Maybe that will carry on through June, because I've always noticed a surge when the weather's perfect. That's when people like to come out and enjoy the beauty of Santa Anita, the backdrop, the mountains.”
“I'm trying to be an optimist,” said fellow Hall of Fame trainer Richard Mandella. “I think things will only get better. I'm very excited about Del Mar having another meet (in November) beyond its regular summer dates. I only wish it was longer, because that is where we've really captured the public's fancy, and where the fans come out to see live racing.”
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