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Santa Anita’s spring-summer meeting opens Thursday

May 4, 2016

The timing couldn’t be more perfect for Santa Anita to open its doors for its 40-day spring-summer meeting beginning on Thursday.

That’s because Saturday is Kentucky Derby Day. Last year, 25,486 showed up at Santa Anita to root home American Pharoah from 2,000 miles away. This time, another California-based horse, Nyquist, will be favored in the Kentucky Derby, and Santa Anita bettors are expected to back him strongly.

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“What’s fun is how good Southern California horses have been with California Chrome and American Pharoah,” trainer John Sadler said of the last two Kentucky Derby winners.

Gates will open at 7:15 a.m. on Saturday, and the first post at Santa Anita will be noon for an 11-race card. There will be a beer festival and a hat contest; general admission in the infield and parking will be free for those who enter through Gate 6.

The highlight of the meeting, which includes 16 graded stakes, should be the $500,000 Gold Cup on June 25. Also, three-time Eclipse Award winner Beholder is scheduled to make her 2016 debut as a 6-year-old in the Adoration Stakes on Sunday.

Beholder has won 11 of 12 races at Santa Anita, 15 of 20 overall and has earnings of $4,436,000.

Thursday’s opening day feature is the $200,000 Royal Heroine Stakes for older fillies and mares going one mile on the turf.

Santa Anita is preparing to host the Breeders’ Cup World Championships on Nov. 4-5. A new Bermuda turf course is scheduled to be installed in time for the autumn meeting that begins in late September. The hillside portion of the course will close June 6, followed by the oval on June 20. There will be no turf course racing from June 23 through the spring meet’s closing day July 10.

“It’s going to be a struggle because we have a lot of turf horses in Southern California,” Sadler said.

The big question is how the turf course will be until its closure. Horses have not been allowed to work out on the turf, but the track has had three weeks to get it into good shape since the winter meeting ended April 10.

“It’s wait and see,” Sadler said.

Follow Eric Sondheimer on Twitter @LATSondheimer

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