Santa Anita Park began its winter/spring meeting Saturday with a 10% increase to its daily overnight purse distribution, a bonus plan to attract out-of-state horses and a new turf course chute.
The increase brings the average daily purse money available to horsemen to more than $533,000, totaling more than $43 million for the current 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 to race their horses at the Arcadia track.
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.
Trainer Robert Falcone, Jr. has brought 25 horses from New York’s Belmont Park to Santa Anita for the winter/spring meeting.
“A lot of factors went into making the move. This is a nice environment and the people here are very accommodating. Obviously, the Sunshine Bonus is very important and with the 10% increase in overnight purses, we realized the purses this winter at Santa Anita are a little better than at Gulfstream,” Falcone said, referring to Hallandale Beach, Florida track also owned by The Stronach Group.
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.
The 80-feet wide and approximately 800-feet long turf course chute enables the track to offer fans and horsemen a wide array of turf sprints that previously had not been available.
The 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.”
It was utilized for the first time in Saturday’s sixth race at 6 1/2 furlongs, featuring a field of 12 allowance horses aged three and up. The race was won by Highly Distorted, who got the distance in 1:14.85 while winning by three quarters of a length.
“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.”
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’s winter/spring meeting will be held without fans in attendance because of the coronavirus pandemic, just like other meetings in California since the resumption of racing May 15 following a nearly two-month interruption because of the coronavirus pandemic.
Fans can watch and wager on Santa Anita’s live races via account deposit wagering platforms including 1stBet.com and XpressBet.com. The track’s complete simulcast presentation is streamed free at santaanita.com.
The opening day 11-race card included five graded stakes races, including the $200,000 Mathis Brothers Mile, which was won by Smooth Like Strait, who is trained by Michael McCarthy.
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. The horse is trained by Eric Kruljac.
“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.”
There were no equine fatalities during Santa Anita’s 16-day autumn meeting which concluded Oct. 25. Sixteen horses died in racing or training-related incidents during Santa Anita’s 2019-20 winter/spring meeting, which ended June 21.
The unraced 2-year-old filly Penelope Rose fractured her right front humerus while galloping during a workout at Santa Anita Dec. 16 and was euthanized.
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