Positives present challenge for Santa Anita next year

Apr 2, 2002 6:46 AM

Thanks to its success against the overs and unders, Santa Anita’s numbers are up this meet.

Rainfall through the first 67 days of the 85-day meet is far under the norm, and Pick Six carryovers are well over the average. Add to the mix fuller fields and it equates to increased handle, the lifeblood of the sport.

“We’re right around 8.6 horses per race, compared to 8.1 last meet, so I field sizes are up,” said director of racing and racing secretary Mike Harlow. “The meet’s been pretty successful in that it seems like we’ve kept a lot of momentum going, from carryovers, to full fields to good weather. Everything’s pretty much clicked this year.”

Through 67 days, overall handle is up six percent, according to Santa Anita president and general manager F. Jack Liebau. “Off-track handle is up three percent, and on-track two percent,” Liebau said. “Our total in California is up two percent, and the total out of state handle increased 11 percent.”

Lack of rain has helped, too.

“Four or five years ago, we had 38 inches of rain during our long meet,” pointed out track superintendent Steve Wood. “Normal for this meet is 14 inches. Last year we had 13 inches. So far this year, we’ve only had four inches, and that’s unreal.

“But because the weather has been hot, dry and windy, it’s made maintenance of the track more difficult than if we’d have had our normal amount of rain, because that’s what we’re prepared for ”” wet weather, not dry.”

Harlow attributes much of the success to an abundance of Pick Six carryovers. “We had 20 carryovers through 66 days, which is unbelievable,” he noted.

Harlow said a delay in the start of 2-year-old racing also has helped. The two-furlong dashes, while frowned upon by some horsemen, have attracted full fields of 10.

“I waited a week later this year and I think it’s helped as far as filling those races,” Harlow said. “All of the races filled first time around and I think that’s the first time it’s happened. Last year, the first couple baby races didn’t fill, so I think waiting a week later was a benefit as far as having everybody ready to run.”

While the picture this meet is rosy, Harlow recognizes that eventually, basic economics are likely to reach the point of diminishing returns.

“Next year we’re going to have to pay for this year’s success,” Harlow said. “If we have 20 carryovers this year and next year we flip that and have 20 days of rain instead, we’re going to have to go against some pretty strong numbers next year. Hopefully, we’ll have good weather again, field sizes will remain strong, and we’ll be OK.

“But whenever you have a good meet, you have to go against those numbers the following year, so it boils down to what have you done for me lately.”

THE HOMESTRETCH: Royal Gem will miss Saturday’s Santa Anita Derby due to a quarter crack in his right fore, while Hollywood Prevue winner Fonz’s will skip the Arcadia race and take on Repent in Saturday’s Illinois Derby at Sportsman’s Park. “He doesn’t care for the Santa Anita surface,” trainer David LaCroix said of Fonz’s. “We’ll have to face Repent, but I think it’s better than running in the Blue Grass, and we’re not nominated to the Arkansas Derby and I don’t want to run in New York. Maybe we can get to the Kentucky Derby through the back door.” . . . Bob Baffert said he expects last year’s Wood winner and Kentucky Derby third-place finisher Congaree to join his stable in Kentucky, “if I get there this year.” Baffert’s last hope for the Run for the Roses is Danthebluegrassman, scheduled to run in the Santa Anita Derby . . . This e-mail from Peader Flanagan of Dublin, Ireland: “Nice piece on Came Home. FYI, Johannesburg will have prep race for the Kentucky Derby at Lingfield Park in England shortly.” The racing world is waiting with baited breath . . . As if the stewards don’t have enough responsibilities, they now will be required to keep a record of every advertisement when ads are allowed on jockeys’ silks and trousers beginning at Bay Meadows on Sunday and at Hollywood Park on April 24. The California Horse Racing Board approved the regulation last Nov. 30, and California’s Office of Administrative Law gave its OK on Feb. 13. According to the CHRB, owners, racing associations and racing fairs must submit a photo of the ad to the stewards 72 hours prior to the race. Jockeys must submit a copy of their advertisement prior to the start of each race meet. A copy of a list that identifies the jockeys and owners, and what they are advertising will be posted at the track office and on the CHRB web site (www.chrb.ca.gov). Ad sizes on the silks can range up to 32 square inches on the chest area and 1.5 inches by four inches on each collar. The next thing you know, ads will be allowed on the horses, and racing will begin resembling the NASCAR circuit.