By Jack Shinar and Tracy Gantz
Amid concerns about track safety, horsemen representatives and Santa Anita management met the morning of Aug. 6 to discuss progress on renovation of the Pro-Ride synthetic racing surface that began July 26.
George Haines, Santa Anita's president, confirmed the meeting took place over issues expressed with the repairs so far and said he was "looking forward to further discussions" with horsemen. He said he did not want to comment on the extent of their complaints.
Arnold Zetcher, chairman of the Thoroughbred Owners of California, was out of town and did not attend the meeting -- which also included representatives from the California Thoroughbred Trainers -- but said he was briefed about it. Pete Parrella represented TOC.
"We felt it was an appropriate time to look at it," Zetcher said. "After looking at the track, some of the trainers were a little uncomfortable with it, and so we are having further discussions.
"We've taken the first step, which is to get an understanding of the track situation," Zetcher added. "The main thing is the safety of the racetrack."
The track has been closed to training as the renovation takes place. While the work was expected to mostly be routine, management wanted to mitigate, if possible, an ongoing drainage problem in the home stretch, particularly near the finish line. The drainage failure led to five full card cancellations after heavy rainfall hit the Southern California area during the past winter/spring meet.
In the process, workers took portions of the track all the way down to the drainage base and apparently dislodged some rocks.
Zetcher was asked if the main track issue could jeopardize the Oak Tree Racing Association meet, which is to be held at Santa Anita Sept. 29-Oct. 31.
"We felt that this was an appropriate time to have trainers look at the track, with the meet still two months away," he responded. "We just want to be sure that it's OK. If they can get the track ready in time, great. If they can't, then we'll have to look at other options.
"The TOC and CTT are working together on this, and hopefully we can get it resolved," he added.
Haines referred a question about the status of the Oak Tree meet to Sherwood Chillingworth, the racing association's executive vice president. Chillingworth did not return phone calls.
Dennis Mills, the chief executive officer for MI Developments, which owns Santa Anita, said that "in the process of doing (repair work), they turned up some stones. But they'll have it fixed in plenty of time (for Oak Tree). Chilly expressed confidence in that."
Dr. Rick Arthur, who is on the Oak Tree Board of Directors and is also the California Horse Racing Board's equine medical director, defended the Pro-Ride "as an extremely safe surface."
He said the Santa Anita main track is coming off one of the best meets anywhere in terms of equine fatalities with just two racing deaths among 3,655 starts in 2009-10. The fatality rate of 0.55 per 1,000 starts, he said, was far below the overall synthetic track average of 1.78 and the dirt track rate of 2.14.
When it began repairs, Santa Anita announced it expected to resume training at the conclusion of the Del Mar meet Sept. 8.