Santa Anita prepares for possible wet winter meeting caused by El Niño


A 19-day autumn thoroughbred meeting, the shortest in Santa Anita history, came to a close Sunday, and now starts the planning for what could be an unpredictable winter meeting that begins on the day after Christmas.

It’s called the El Niño effect.

“Santa Anita has been racing in the winter time since 1934,” racing secretary Rick Hammerle said. “It’s tackled many weather storms over that time.”

But that doesn’t mean the Arcadia track isn’t paying attention to warnings of a possible continuous wet winter, since the track is located at the base of the San Gabriel Mountains and would get hit hard.


“Sometimes when there is smoke there is fire,” Hammerle said. “We’ve made sure the drains have been cleared on the track, the gutters cleared and checked the pumps. We’ve ordered sandbags. We will meet again to be prepared as much as we can.”

The last two times there was an El Niño effect came in 1997-98, when there were 38 off-track days, and in 1977-78, when 18 of the first 19 days were off days en route to 38 off days. Lots of rain would mean fewer races on the turf and a search for horses that like running in the mud.

“It’s not good but it is what it is,” owner Paul Reddam said. “You’ll have a lot of sealed racetracks. Smart trainers will prepare. When the track is sealed, it’s a very hard surface.”

On Sunday, jockey Rafael Bejarano, who won the riding title, guided Baruta to victory in the $100,000 Sen. Ken Maddy Stakes at 61/2 furlongs on the turf. Doug O’Neill won the training title with three wins Sunday.

Del Mar begins its monthlong winter meeting Thursday. The Breeders’ Cup will be held Friday and Saturday in Keeneland. Santa Anita will be open for betting only those days. Next year, the Breeders’ Cup returns to Santa Anita.