Santa Anita Has Its Ups and Downs


Although attendance and mutuel handle were down slightly from the 1995-96 meeting, Santa Anita president Cliff Goodrich thought there were two major positives for the track’s 86-day winter-spring season, which ended Monday.

One was the new turf course. After years of trying to improve the layout--and millions spent in the effort--Santa Anita seems finally to have achieved its goal. Although it was lightning fast and much too firm a couple of months ago, it was slower and safer recently and drew praise from some who were once harsh critics.

The other plus was the decision to have only eight races on most weekdays. That increased the average size of the fields slightly over last year, going from 8.45 to nearly 8.6 horses a race.


“Finally getting a grass course was a big step,” said Goodrich. “We think it’s one of the best in the business and that’s very important to us, and people are happy with that. We also had our point underscored that more is not better. We wanted to increase field size by reducing the number of races per day and I think that really helped us. I had a lot of people come up to me [and say that it was appreciated].”

What hurt the total handle, which was down 6.81% from last year, was the continued dispute between the California tracks and Nevada regarding the amount of money the casinos pay to simulcast the races. The battle has been going on since November and is not expected to be resolved by the time Hollywood Park begins its spring-summer meeting Friday night.


With 90 victories, Alex Solis was the leading rider at Santa Anita, his fifth consecutive jockey title. It’s the first time anyone has done that on the Southern California circuit since Chris McCarron in 1982-83.

“My hard work and dedication paid off,” said Solis, who had nine more winners than Gary Stevens. “Winning the [titles] means a lot to me. Through the years, I’ve prepared myself well--stayed fit and improved my riding. Those are the main things that have helped me.”

Corey Nakatani equaled a record set by Laffit Pincay Jr. during the 1982-83 meeting when he won his 19th stakes race of the meeting Monday aboard Surachai in the $90,975 Valiant Pete Handicap.

Surachai, the 17-10 favorite, ran down Men’s Exclusive in the final sixteenth to win by 1 1/2 lengths in 1:14 4/5 for the 6 1/2 furlongs. Letthebighossroll, trying to become only the fifth 9-year-old to win a stakes at Santa Anita, was third.


“Just to share a record with Laffit is a special honor,” Nakatani said. “I’m just glad to have had the chances I had on the horses I rode.”

Horse Racing Notes

The on-track attendance at Santa Anita was down a little more than half of 1% and the average combined attendance, which includes the inter-track sites, was down 6.74%. . . . On the day he tied Laffit Pincay’s record, Corey Nakatani was given a seven-day suspension beginning Friday night after a ride in Sunday’s San Simeon Handicap in which his mount, Destiny’s Venture, was disqualified and moved from second to fifth. In that race, Debutant Trick clipped heels, causing jockey Chris McCarron to be thrown to the turf. McCarron, who suffered a shoulder injury, did not ride Monday. . . . Bob Baffert led the trainer standings for the second time in three years at Santa Anita, finishing with 33 victories, 13 more than Richard Mandella, Jenine Sahadi and David Hofmans. . . . Del Mar Dennis, who won the San Bernardino Handicap three times and seven other races, has been retired by owners John Toffan and Trudy McCaffery. The 7-year-old, who raced 26 times, finished with earnings of $1,023,613.