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Santa Anita considers adding night racing

With Betfair Hollywood Park closing, plans call for extending Arcadia track's winter-spring meeting into hotter months when night racing might have merit.

June 05, 2013|By Jim Peltz
  • In the wake of Betfair Hollywood Park's pending closing, Santa Anita is considering the addition of night racing at the track.
In the wake of Betfair Hollywood Park's pending closing, Santa Anita… (Mark J. Terrill / Associated…)

Could night racing come to Santa Anita Park?

Not yet, but it's an idea Santa Anita executives are weighing because the track has landed additional horse-racing dates next year.

"It's definitely a topic of discussion," Santa Anita spokesman Mike Willman said of installing lights at the famous Arcadia track.

With Betfair Hollywood Park in Inglewood closing at the end of this year, plans call for Santa Anita to acquire extra race days that would extend Santa Anita's winter-spring meeting through July 6.

The winter-spring meeting previously ended in April. Racing then would shift for several weeks to Betfair Hollywood Park, whose location near the ocean helped shield the racehorses — and patrons — from higher temperatures.

Now, the added days at Santa Anita from May into July raise the question of whether the heat will be a problem in Arcadia and, if so, whether night races at Santa Anita have merit.

Before deciding on lights, Santa Anita is looking at having its daily racing card start later in the afternoon next year during May, June and July to see whether that step alone would address the heat problem.

"We anticipate some twilight cards with either a 3:30 or 4 p.m. start," Willman said. Whether that would occur on some or all racing days in those months is still being determined, he said.

"We want to monitor the conditions," Willman said. "It's going to be a learning curve for everybody, including us. We want to get feedback from our jockeys, trainers and owners and see how things work out."

As for lights at the 79-year-old Santa Anita facility, track owner Frank Stronach would have to decide whether it's worth the cost.

When Churchill Downs, home of the Kentucky Derby, installed lights in 2010, that track estimated its cost at between $3 million and $4 million.

In addition, about 84% of the total betting — known as the "handle" — at Santa Anita comes from off-track wagering, that is, people at other locations or online placing "simulcast" or "satellite" bets on Santa Anita's races.

If Santa Anita holds races at night, "you take a hit handle-wise in the Eastern and Central time zones" as bettors in those regions forgo wagering so late, Willman said.

That's what happened at Betfair Hollywood Park, which ended Friday night races this year partly because its off-track betting suffered on those nights, track President Jack Liebau told the Daily Racing Form in February.

Nonetheless, Santa Anita would hope night racing triggers "a rise in on-track revenues in all areas" at its facility — including attendance, wagering, concessions and parking — that would more than offset any drop in off-track wagering, Willman said.

"It's just something that has to be carefully considered," he said.

Santa Anita could use a spike in popularity. Attendance and on-track wagering have declined the last two decades, as they have at many racetracks, largely because of off-track betting and competition from state lotteries and Indian casinos.

james.peltz@latimes.com

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