With five breakdowns, including three fatalities, in the first five days of racing, Santa Anita’s synthetic surface has again come under the microscope.
Santa Anita officials and horsemen were concerned that the Pro-Ride surface might have changed following rain, a drop in temperature, and the added traffic of afternoon racing, even while they were uncertain whether the breakdowns could be attributed to the racing surface or other causes.
“We are going to be working on the track in the next couple of days,” said Santa Anita president Ron Charles Jan. 4. “We believe that the last power harrowing we did Tuesday (Dec. 30) helped.”
The accidents began with the first race of the meet Dec. 26, when Warren’s Kenzo broke down on the first turn and Nascar Johnny pulled up on the backside. Warren’s Kenzo had to be euthanized and Nascar Johnny will need time off. The next day, Indyanne pulled up in the stretch of the La Brea Stakes (gr. I) with a fractured sesamoid, but is expected to be saved for breeding.
In the seventh race Dec. 29, Flashing Forward was bumped at the start, pulled up on the turn, and had to be vanned off and subsequently euthanized. In the first race Dec. 31, Boozin’ Bear broke down in the stretch with a condylar facture of the right hind and had to be euthanized.
Santa Anita had no breakdowns from Jan. 1 to 4 and is dark Jan. 5 and 6. Ian Pearse of Pro-Ride Australia was to arrive to help oversee the work during the off-days. The Pro-Ride surface was installed before last fall’s Oak Tree Racing Association meeting to correct the problems that arose with the original Cushion Track synthetic surface.
“We literally went a month without having a horse picked up by the ambulance in the mornings before the meet started,” said Charles. “We have been taking readings and been talking to Ian every day to try to find out what’s going on.”
Horsemen generally were happy with the surface prior to the meet opening Dec. 26, and many were puzzled as to what might have changed.
“Until it started raining and got cold, the track was great,” said trainer Bobby Frankel. “I’ve not had any bad injuries, but I have had some foot problems, such as bruises.”
Ed Halpern, executive director of the California Thoroughbred Trainers, said that trainers continue to tell him they prefer synthetic surfaces to dirt surfaces, even with the problems.
“They are just not as quick to say it,” Halpern said. “There are a lot of questions in people’s minds. There is no maintenance book—that’s what was missing from the initial analysis.”
Halpern and Dr. Rick Arthur, equine medical director for the California Horse Racing Board, discussed the situation the morning of Jan. 3 at Clocker’s Corner.
“It’s very difficult to determine how much is the track and how much is racing anomalies or other racing issues,” Arthur said. “Historically, the first few weeks of a meet are always the worst.”
Some trainers, while expressing concerns over the breakdowns, noted that Santa Anita with a dirt track in the winter rainy season would have to seal its surface. That would often lead to shorter fields two to three weeks afterward when horses would come up sore, according to Halpern and Arthur.
Trainer James Cassidy said the surface is generally fine but that there have been some problems.
“We have to find out what is causing that,” Cassidy said. “Maybe the vehicles, such as the (human) ambulance, are driving over it too fast.”
Charles has constantly emphasized the importance of safety to the horses. “To have five days and five horses get injured, three fatally, is something that obviously we need to look into, and we’re doing everything we can,” he said.