Return to live racing at Santa Anita is big hit with bettors

The starting gate is moved after a race at Santa Anita Park on April 6, 2019.
Santa Anita reopened for racing Friday after it was shut down for competition for almost two months because of the COVID-19 pandemic.
(Kent Nishimura / Los Angeles Times)

Santa Anita reopened Friday after almost two months, and based on the amount of money bet, it seems as if the public was more than waiting for this. The track pulled in a 184% increase from the last Friday the track ran before being shut down because of the COVID-19 pandemic.

The nine-race card pulled in $11,207,076 in wagering compared with $3,944,391 on March 20. The track was shut down March 27 . While an impressive weekday number, it is short of the $19.02 million on opening day or the $17.48 million on March 7 the day of the San Felipe and Santa Anita Handicap.

The atmosphere at Santa Anita was quite different than what fans had grown accustomed to for almost 80 years. There were no fans and only essential track personnel, numbering fewer than 100, were allowed to be at the racing portion of the 320-acre property.

Not included in the count of essential personnel, but at the track and mostly isolated, were the 55 trainers who ran 90 horses and the 21 jockeys who rode them. Among the small group of essential workers were gate starters, outriders in case a horse got loose, pony riders who lead the horses to the track, ambulance drivers, track veterinarians and bugler Jay Cohen and race caller Frank Mirahmadi.


Those in close proximity to others, including jockeys, were wearing masks.

The Lakers will allow players to enter their El Segundo facility for individual and voluntary workouts starting Saturday. The Clippers aren’t following suit.

Jockeys found a different environment in that they were tested for both antibodies and an active swab test before the first racing day Friday. They also have to live in a trailer, the same used on television and movie sets, until the racing week ends Sunday when they can go home. When they return next Friday, the swab test will be administered again.

Essential workers are also sent to a health tent daily before they can enter the track. Their temperature is taken and a series of questions have to be answered.

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In addition to the trailers on the frontside of the track, the back parking lot is filled with cars, but not from those attending races. Major venues are the new home to rental cars, unused because of the drop in business.

Winning a race was also not the same, as the winner’s circle was closed and a quick picture near the finish line was all that owners, barred from the track, had to remember the victory.

The only incident on Friday’s card was in the fourth race when Pammi Dearest took a bad step in deep stretch and unseated rider Jorge Velez. Both rider and horse were not injured.