Santa Anita Park had an opening day record pari-mutuel handle Saturday despite fans being barred from attending due to the coronavirus pandemic.
There was $23,003,159 bet on the 11-race card on the Arcadia track’s 84th opening day, breaking the previous record of $20,491,016 set on Dec. 26, 2018, also for an 11-race card.
The card included three Grade 1 stakes races and two Grade 2 stakes races, with Charlatan winning the $300,000 Grade 1 Runhappy Malibu Stakes for 3-year-olds by 4 1/2 lengths in his first race since May 2, after being sidelined by an ankle injury.
The race is named for the 2015 American Champion Sprint Horse, who won the race in 2015.
The $200,000 San Antonio Stakes was won by 15-1 longshot Kiss Saturday Goodbye, who came from last place to win by a half-length in the mile-and-one-sixteenth race for 3-year-olds and up.
“I was impressed with his last race and I wasn’t even riding him,” jockey Mike Smith said. “He ran by me in that last race. I thank Eric Kruljac for the opportunity of riding him and for his great training job. The race was shaping up for him with the speed up front and when it came time to run, he took off. I just guided him around the track.”
Opening day marked the debut of Santa Anita’s new turf course chute which enables the track to run a wide array of turf sprints that previously had not been available.
It was utilized for the first time in the 6 1/2-furlong sixth race with a field of 12 allowance horses 3 years old and up. Highly Distorted won by three-quarters of a length in one minute, 14.85 seconds.
“Everything looked good,” said track surface consultant Dennis Moore, who oversaw the project. “It’s nice to see it all come together from beginning to end. The horses all crossed the dirt well and it looked like everybody handled the entire course very well.”
The 80-feet wide and approximately 800-feet long chute runs parallel to the seven-furlong main track chute, crosses the dirt oval and joins up with the turf oval at approximately the five-furlong pole. It will allow for sprint races at distances of 6 1/2, six, 5 1/2 and five furlongs on the turf oval known as “the flat.”
Santa Anita’s traditional Camino Real Hillside Course will continue to be available to horses running distances of a mile and a quarter and longer.
With the exception of a slight alteration to the outside rail which enabled the track to begin running five furlong turf sprints in September 2018, the turf chute project represents the first significant alteration to the Camino Real Course, which was unveiled on Dec. 26, 1953.
Santa Anita has increased its daily overnight purse distribution for the winter/spring meeting by 10%, raising the average daily purse money available to horsemen to more than $533,000, totaling more than $43 million for the season, which is set to run through June 20.
“Building Santa Anita’s aggressive overnight purse schedule is a reflection of the confidence that we have in California racing even in the midst of a pandemic,” said Craig Fravel, CEO of 1/ST Racing, the unit of The Stronach Group, which owns Santa Anita, that operates the company’s tracks and training centers.
Santa Anita is also offering the Sunshine Bonus, which provides several significant incentives to out-of-state owners and trainers.
In addition to providing a $3,000 starter’s bonus to eligible out-of-state horses, the Sunshine Bonus will also award a 35% bonus, above regular purse money-won, to eligible horses in their first five Santa Anita starts.
Purses at Santa Anita, like all California racetracks, are derived from a percentage of the handle wagered on the track’s races, as opposed to other jurisdictions where purses are supplemented with casino revenue and other forms of wagering.
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