Ian Pearse of Pro-Ride Racing Australia stands ready to begin fixing Santa Anita’s beleaguered Cushion Track surface as soon as the final race is completed Feb. 3.
“On Sunday afternoon after the races, we’ll harrow the track and break up the hard material underneath (below the Cushion Track and above the asphalt),” Pearse said. “Then we’ll be applying the liquid (binder).”
Santa Anita has lost seven days of racing because the Cushion Track, installed last summer under a California Horse Racing Board mandate to replace dirt tracks with synthetic surfaces, has been unable to handle rain. The wax and fine sand used in Cushion Track has clogged the asphalt base, which led to the track being unable to drain properly.
The liquid binder Pearse has developed for his Pro-Ride product is believed to be able to solve Santa Anita’s drainage problem. Pro-Ride calls it an emulsified “polymetric binder,” and it differs from the other synthetic tracks in that it is not a wax.
“If you’re using a wax, it goes from a solid like a candle and can instantly turn into a liquid, depending on what temperature it gets to,” Pearse explained. “With our sorts of binders, it never starts as a solid. It always has an elastic feel like putty to it. As it gets hotter, it doesn’t just turn into a liquid.”
He likened hot wax and cold sand to oil and water—they don’t bond. Pearse, who began his company in 1985 by installing synthetic surfaces for other equestrian events, such as dressage arenas, originally used wax but decided to change to what he considers a better binder. Through his research, Pro-Ride has been able to turn a hot polymetric binder into a cool water-like liquid that can be more easily applied.
“That is the main reason why we can fix this where the others can’t because they all use hot binders,” Pearse said. “You can’t put a hot binder on wet sand. But you can put a liquid binder like this on wet sand.”
Another problem with wax, Pearse said, is that when it heats up, it melts and migrates to the bottom of the track.
“That’s why a lot of them will get harder and harder on the bottom and softer and softer on top,” he said.
Pearse said Pro-Ride’s liquid binder doesn’t perform that way and remains more stable in hotter weather than wax-based products. Pro-Ride, which has been installed in 15 training tracks in Australia and one training facility in Kentucky, can withstand extreme temperatures, according to Pearse. He said that it has performed successfully from –15 to 45 degrees Celsius (or about 5 to 113 degrees Fahrenheit).
To begin the renovation project, Santa Anita’s maintenance crew worked Jan. 29-30 to level the track so that the cushion is an even depth everywhere.
“All of this is done on percentages, an exact formula,” Pearse said. “We had to balance the track out first so that it’s the right thickness everywhere. Then the same amount of material gets applied over the whole track, and you get the right result.”
Pearse said the track will receive three applications of the liquid binder—about 120,000 gallons—which will then be mixed into the existing surface. The binder will coat the granules of sand. Following that, Pearse will add about 480 tons of the Pro-Ride fiber.
Track management hopes to be able to resume racing on Friday, Feb. 8, though there is the possibility that the work and subsequent maintenance to ready the surface could push that back to Saturday, Feb. 9.
The extended weather forecast calls for clear skies throughout the renovation schedule except for Sunday, Feb. 3. That could delay the process, depending on how much rainfall occurs.