Strong start to Santa Anita's 2016

Jan 5, 2016 3:03 AM

It is good news to report that racing at Santa Anita Park is off to a flying start.

Ever since the track opened its prestigious 2015-2016 meeting, attendance has been up significantly along with gains in handle on and off track.

On opening day in fact, Santa Anita hosted a record 44,873 fans and handled more than $17 million on track and through its satellite wagering facilities throughout California.

The upward trend continued the next day and through the first full week, with attendance spiking upwards of 39 percent on one of those days and handles exceeding last year’s opening week totals.

This is true for SA partly because of the lingering after-effect racing in America is experiencing as a result of the American Pharoah phenomenon that attracted such interest throughout his Triple Crown campaign, all the way to and through the 2015 Breeders’ Cup Classic at Keeneland, Oct. 31.

It also seems to be true that American Pharoah’s exciting exploits brought many people into the sport that had never shown much prior interest.

I, in fact, got several emails and letters from people who wanted to know where they could learn more about handicapping and the history of racing, which only rarely had occurred in previous years. Make no mistake; this surge of interest is something racing executives and newspaper editors should pay attention to. It certainly is providing a guilt-edged reason to promote racing’s best races and its most attractive wagering options. Not to do that would be a catastrophic lost opportunity.

Winning is not easy in any gambling game and betting on horse races is a game that requires careful study of past performances, keen observation of races as they are run and sharp wagering approaches that will give the player a fair shake. The 23 percent Exacta takeout ruins that sensitive equation, and the people who have set it up should realize by now they need to adjust their thinking in a more friendly honorable direction.

Speaking of making a necessary change, when Bill Bradley, the newly hired sports editor of the Las Vegas Review Journal announced two weeks ago he no longer was going to publish the daily entries and results for Santa Anita in his paper, he received a lot of emails and phone calls from racing fans in this city asking him to review his decision.

On Monday, Bradley amended that decision to put those entries and results back into the paper while deciding still to discontinue the handicapping work of Richard Eng, a respected professional analyst. It’s the RJ’s decision, of course, but I have no clue why this locally-based paper is downplaying racing’s current popularity with its Vegas-based fans while the sport is on an upswing.

In other news that horseplayers should know, there is a two day Pick Six carryover worth over $380,000 that will be on the table for Thursday’s final six races and the upward handle trend should continue as more than $1.5 million is likely to be wagered into that pool alone.

It also seems we have a new jockey at SA who is emerging as a go-to rider while the usual top talents, including Mike Smith, Gary Stevens and Rafael Bejarano, continue to do what most players and trainers expect.

The new jockey to pay attention to is Santiago Gonzalez, who leads the current standings with 10 victories, seven seconds and three thirds for earnings of $396K, from only 41 mounts.

Rafael Bejarano has nine wins, seven seconds and three thirds for more than $489K because he is not only very good, but he rides more live horses in rich stakes. Both Mike Smith and Gary Stevens have four wins apiece while each has earned more than $380K because they too ride good horses in the best stakes races.

Among the top trainers so far, the name Richard Baltas has been a surprise leader, given the competition that exists at Santa Anita every day.

Baltas has five wins, a second and a third from only 12 starters for $289K in earnings.

Peter Miller has four wins from 22 starters and several other trainers have two or three. Chief among those is Karen Headley with three wins from only four starters and Kristin Mulhal with three from five. All of these jockeys and trainers obviously came to the new Santa Anita season ready to fire.

Steve Davidowitz, author of the best selling “,” has covered racing since Secretariat, lives in Vegas & is writing a new book, “Cashing Big on Racing’s Biggest Days.” Email: SteveDavidowitz @GamingToday.com.