After much deliberation, Santa Anita has chosen Cushion Track, the same surface as at Hollywood Park, for its synthetic track. The Arcadia, Calif., track announced May 23 that it would install the all-weather surface, which replaces its main dirt track, this summer in time for the fall Oak Tree Racing Association meeting.
“We believe we have done very thorough due diligence,” said Santa Anita president Ron Charles in a press release. “We went to racetracks around the world numerous times to evaluate synthetic tracks from the point of view of the horsemen, jockeys, fans, weather conditions, and track operators.”
With the selection of Cushion Track for Santa Anita, two of Southern California’s major racetracks will have nearly identical surfaces. Equestrian Surfaces of the United Kingdom manufactures Cushion Track. Hollywood installed Cushion Track last summer and conducted its fall 2006 meeting on it to enthusiastic reviews from horsemen. Hollywood is in the midst of its first spring-summer meeting with the surface.
Santa Anita officials also seriously considered Pro-Ride, a synthetic surface in use at several training centers in Australia. Charles and jockeys Richard Migliore and Aaron Gryder traveled to Australia to test that surface earlier this year, both riders saying that it performed well during a series of exercise maneuvers.
Charles said a key factor in the Cushion Track decision was that it would give Santa Anita and Hollywood similar surfaces, a consistency that horsemen believe would be advantageous.
“We believe the horsemen will definitely appreciate this consistency,” Charles said, “because there’s a definite level of confidence that the horses display when they train daily over virtually the same surface.”
Cushion Track consists of silica sand mixed with synthetic fibers, elastic fiber, and granulated rubber. All of the material is then coated with a blend of wax.
Santa Anita will be able to begin installation after the Hollywood Park meeting ends July 15. During the Hollywood stand, Santa Anita is open as an auxiliary training facility. Once the Southern California circuit moves to Del Mar, which will unveil its new Polytrack synthetic surface this season, Santa Anita is scheduled to close for training and Hollywood will remain open as the auxiliary center.
The Cushion Track installation is expected to be completed by the first week in September. That would give horsemen about three weeks of training prior to the opening of the Oak Tree race meeting on Sept. 26.
Citing the need for better safety than provided by conventional dirt tracks, The California Horse Racing Board mandated that all major Thoroughbred racetracks in the state install a synthetic main track by 2008. Hollywood became the first track to race with a synthetic surface, and Golden Gate Fields in Northern California is planning to begin installation of a Tapeta Footings all-weather track next month.
Bay Meadows, with no synthetic plans, sought a two-year waiver from the CHRB due to eventual development plans, but the the request was denied. The race course's status for 2008 is pending.