Attendance and Handle Increase but Field Sizes a Concern at Santa Anita
The 4th of July holiday marked the closing of Santa Anita’s Spring Meet, but the 103-day racing season that included the Winter Meet showed some positive signs especially in attendance. On-track attendance increased 8 percent overall, marking the fourth consecutive year Santa Anita has posted attendance gains. Total attendance for the six month season was 831,135, an increase of 62,400 over 2015-16. Opening day on Dec. 26 drew 46,514 – the largest turnout in 22 years.
“We’re encouraged by our numbers and we remain committed to working with our horsemen to do even better and to provide our customers with the kind of world class racing they expect to see here at Santa Anita,” said Joe Morris, Senior Vice President, West Coast Operations, for The Stronach Group. “We finished strongly this past few weeks because we were able to increase our field size, which makes for better opportunities for our players.”
Field sizes were a concern, as the final months of the Spring Meet were plagued by difficulty filling races. In addition, four racing days were cancelled on Thursdays, including three in June. Track officials made the decision to race three days a week for three weeks in June and saw an increase in field size during that span.
Three-day weeks may be built into the schedule for the 2018 meeting, according to Morris.
“I think you’ll see some three-day weeks at the end,” Morris said.
For the season ending July 4, all-sources handle showed a $23.5 million increase over a year ago, a 2.5 percent gain.
The 45-day Spring portion of the meet that started April 14 had some big handle days including on Kentucky Derby day ($19.2 million) and the Preakness Stakes ($15.8 million). Attendance was more than 20,000 at Santa Anita during each of those two Triple Crown racing days.
For the spring-summer portion of the meeting this year, fields averaged 7.55 runners per race. The comparable meeting last year, from May 5 to July 10, averaged 7.26 runners per race. There was no turf racing for the final three weeks of last year’s spring-summer meet while the course was replaced.
Field size this year increased during the final month of the season to an average of 8.07 per race. Santa Anita raced three days a week for the first three weeks of the final month and five days during the last week of the meet.
“The players are loud and clear,” Morris said. “They want fuller fields. You have to provide opportunities for your gamblers and horsemen.”
Live racing resumes at Santa Anita on Sept. 29 for the 19-day Autumn Meet that runs through Oct. 29.