Santa Anita was a bit leery when its opening day of December 26 fell on a Wednesday this year.
The middle of the week during the holidays can be problematic.
Not to worry, as the Arcadia track got off to a flying start when 41,373 fans poured through the turnstiles due to a combination of great racing, free calendars, a plush toy giveaway, ice skating in the infield, a college scholarship giveaway, a beer and cider festival on the track apron, and even a whiskey tasting event in the Chandelier Room.
When the day was done, Santa Anita posted a record all sources handle of $20,491,016.
Through Saturday, handle and attendance figures are up over nine percent from 2017, with much of the credit going to field sizes, which were averaging 9.1 horses per race through December 29.
The racing itself has been top notch, due in part to increased participation from east coast trainers like Chad Brown, Steve Asmussen, Jena Antonucci, Todd Pletcher, Albert Stall, Anthony Quartarolo, Dallas Stewart, and George Weaver.
Those barns brought top east coast jockeys with them, too, as Jose and Irad Ortiz, John Velasquez, Tyler Gafflione, Robby Albarado, Brian Hernandez Jr., and Manny Franco have already made appearances at Santa Anita.
It is a positive to see so much out-of-state participation. If that trend continues, the added depth to the Stakes program could be a big boost to this six month long meet.
Roulette wager quiet start
Santa Anita has introduced a new “Horse Racing Roulette” pari-mutuel wager at this meet. It is a win bet that couples various horses in each race into three wagering interests – red (usually includes the likely post-time favorite), green (usually includes multiple obvious contenders), and black (mostly includes longshots). The takeout is the normal win rate of 15.43 percent.
Has the wager been accepted? Here are the handle totals so far:
• Wednesday December 26 (10 eligible races) – Total handle of $34,935 for an average $3,493 per race.
• Friday December 28 (seven eligible races) – Total handle of $14,754 for an average of $1,844 per race.
• Saturday December 29 (10 eligible races) – Total handle of $20,122 for an average of $2,012 per race.
Since the wager is designed for new customers like the ones likely to attend opening day and during the Christmas and New Year’s Day holiday weeks, the handle has to be disappointing.
I give credit to Santa Anita for trying something new and since it is very early some time must be allowed before any concrete opinions can be made on Horse Racing Roulette.
Changing Post Times Confusing
Horseplayers are known for being creatures of habit. They tend to get to the track or their satellite wagering facility at the same time each day. They tend to sit in the same area if not the same seat every day. They tend to bet with the same tellers every day.
That is why the ever changing post times at Santa Anita are a little concerning, especially since the player friendly 14 percent takeout early Pick Five starts in the first race each day.
Including the first six days of racing, only once has the first post time been the same on consecutive days:
Dec. 26 (11:30 a.m.)
Dec. 28 (12:30 p.m.)
Dec. 29 (Noon)
Dec. 30 (Noon)
Dec. 31 (12:30 p.m.)
As the days get longer, it should be easier to be more consistent with the first post times.
On the positive side, Santa Anita does a good job of starting their races very close to the scheduled post times, so horseplayers should not wait too long to make their wagers.
Sham Stakes Saturday
The first weekend of 2019 at Santa Anita features the first Stakes race for those with Kentucky Derby aspirations. The Grade III Sham Stakes will be run this Saturday and trainer Bob Baffert figures to be holding a couple of aces.
Coliseum, a big grey son of Tapit who was so impressive beating Maidens at Del Mar November 17, worked six furlongs at Santa Anita Sunday morning in 1:12.40, the fastest six-furlong drill of the morning.
Jockey Joe Talamo was aboard for both the Maiden win and the workout Sunday morning and has the call. Baffert also plans to enter Much Better in the Sham.
The main threats to the Baffert duo could be Grey Magician (trained by Peter Miller) and Gunmetal Gray (Jerry Hollendorfer).
The former was an easy Maiden winner at Del Mar when stretched out around two turns for the first time November 24, while the latter comes off a fifth place finish in the Breeders’ Cup Juvenile at Churchill Downs on Nov. 2.
Lindo Report Play for Gaming Today – Fair Grounds Saturday Race 9: Hotshot Anna (No. 11). With Santa Anita drawing Friday’s entries after our deadline, let’s go down to the Fair Grounds and the Pan Zareta Stakes.
Hotshot Anna was been dynamite over synthetic tracks during the summer, which suggests she will handle turf.
She had a nightmare trip in only turf sprint here last March and seems vastly improved since then.