ARCADIA, CA - NOVEMBER 02: Jockey Mike Smith atop Game On Dude leads the field… (Jeff Gross / Getty Images )
There's no denying the increased responsibilities being placed on Santa Anita as it opens its 77th winter/spring meeting Thursday.
With the permanent closing of Hollywood Park, the Arcadia track takes on the expanded role of primary proponent for horse racing in Southern California. Track President George Haines said Santa Anita is ready to embrace the challenges.
"What we hope to accomplish is the finest racing program in the United States," Haines said. "We have the opportunity to race in the months that have traditionally much better weather. We pick up the Triple Crown events that we can build up. We have a better opportunity for our stakes schedule. We view this extremely positive for California racing."
Santa Anita has picked up spring dates formerly held by Hollywood Park. When its traditional winter meeting ends on April 20, there will be a four-day break before Santa Anita launches a spring meeting from April 25 through June 29. The track will try twilight racing in the spring on Fridays, with first post at 3 p.m. Racing mostly will be conducted Thursdays through Sundays.
Haines said concerns about how the turf course would handle the additional racing dates have been addressed. Tests were conducted and the track will also monitor weather conditions and adjust accordingly.
Earlier this year, the track unveiled $15 million in renovations to the clubhouse mezzanine level betting area, new concession stands, a new sports bar and a redesigned Chandelier Room in the turf club.
First post for Thursday is noon. There will be a guaranteed $500,000 pool in the late pick four as part of a nine-race program.
Highlighting opening day are the Grade I, $300,000 La Brea Stakes for 3-year-old fillies at seven furlongs, the Grade II, $200,000 Sir Beaufort Stakes for 3-year-olds at a mile on the turf and the Grade I, $300,000 Malibu Stakes for 3-year-olds at seven furlongs.
East Coast-based jockeys Joel Rosario and Javier Castellano are in town Thursday to ride in stakes races. The local jockey colony will welcome back Tyler Baze, who has been approved to return Jan. 1 after being suspended in June following a failed sobriety test. He's participating in a sobriety-monitoring program.