Is it possible that Santa Anita could surpass all expectations and come close to or exceed 60,000 in on-track attendance today during day two of Breeders’ Cup XXVI during the Oak Tree meet?
Let’s do the math: Last year on opening Friday of Breeders’ Cup XXV, 31,275 fans showed up on track during a day when Zenyatta was running in the Ladies’ Classic. This year, on a day when there were no draws close to a Zenyatta, Oak Tree drew an on-track crowd of 37,651 — a 20 percent hike — for the Friday card.
Now, here’s where it gets interesting. While Zenyatta was a big draw last year, she’s probably an even bigger attraction this year, what with her winning streak even larger and her taking on boys for the first time in the Classic. If 51,321 showed up on the second day last year without the lure of a Zenyatta going for a 14th consecutive victory and trying to become the first female to win the Classic, how many more will show up today?
Let’s say, for starters, Oak Tree and Breeders’ Cup officials are fortunate enough to get a 20 percent spike in attendance today like they did Friday. Well, that’s an on-track crowd of more than 60,000, and it’s been 21 years — when Alysheba won the 1988 Big ‘Cap in front of 70,432 — since Santa Aniat drew an on-track crowd of more than 60,000.
Breeders’ Cup and Oak Tree officials had to be smiling all night because of Friday’s on-track turnout. Let’s face it, Oak Tree’s numbers have been sagging badly the past few weeks and there was much uneasiness over what the numbers would be this weekend.
One high-ranking Santa Anita official told me on Breeders’ Cup draw day that they’d be happy with a two-day total matching last year’s 82,578. Well, to match last year’s on-track attendance, Santa Anita has to draw only 44,927 today. After that crowd Friday, I’d be very surprised if at least 50,000 aren’t on hand today, and I’m expecting a crowd of between 55,000 and 60,000.
That isn’t close to Santa Anita’s all-time record 85,527 that turned out when Lord At War won the 1985 Big ‘Cap, but in this economy and the way the horse-racing industry has struggled the past few years, well, a two-day Breeders’ Cup crowd of more than 92,651 would be mighty impressive.