The opening day of Santa Anita’s upcoming season will be postponed two days until Saturday, Dec. 28, ahead of next week’s declining weather forecast, it was announced Saturday, when the track was intending to draw for its traditional day-after-Christmas card.
“Opening Day is traditionally one of our biggest days of the year, but our commitment to safety is first and foremost,” said Aidan Butler, acting executive director of California for The Stronach Group. “It was very important to make this call as early as possible for our horsemen, fans and employees. There are many moving parts, especially in the training of these wonderful horses, and this decision is being made at this time out of respect to give all involved plenty of advance notice.”
“It is very difficult to predict weather forecasts in Southern California more than 48 hours in advance,” said Dennis Moore, who has returned to his responsibilities overseeing Santa Anita track surfaces. “Right now, they have rain Monday through Thursday morning. But the models are continuing to change and when they do that, they are usually building up moisture.”
This marks the first time since the 1976-1977 winter season that Santa Anita has not opened on Dec. 26.
The California Horse Racing Board said it "strongly supported The Stronach Group decision" in a statement issued later Saturday.
"We on the Board indicated our concern for safety when we provided Santa Anita 12 flex days in its upcoming meet." said CHRB Chairman Gregory Ferraro. "Those dark days will be determined by weather and safety conditions as the meet progresses. We are encouraged that Santa Anita, by canceling its first two days of racing, is placing the safety of horses and riders first."
Last year’s opening day on-track attendance was 41,373, with an all-time opening day handle record of over $20-million.
“The stakes races set for Thursday will be brought back on Saturday,” said Steve Lym, Santa Anita’s vice president and director of racing. “With the rain in the forecast, it was extremely likely that the races would be off the turf on Thursday. Postponing opening day will allow for the high quality turf racing synonymous with Santa Anita. We are planning on filling extra races throughout the opening week to give our horsemen the opportunity to run their horses.”
Among the horses set to run now on Dec. 28 is Fox Hill Farm’s Omaha Beach, the likely favorite in the Malibu Stakes (G1) for 3-year-olds.
“They are doing the right thing by moving the races,” said Richard Mandella, Omaha Beach’s Hall of Fame trainer. “I’m just very happy to be in the race with this horse.”
Entries for Opening Day will be drawn on Monday. First post time Dec. 28 will be 11 a.m. PT.