Less than two weeks from opening day, construction crews are scrambling to get Santa Anita Park's Cushion Track back in running condition.
Santa Anita president Ron Charles assured the California Horse Racing Board during its Dec. 14 meeting that his track will open on time Dec. 26. Drainage problems necessitated a major overhaul of the synthetic surface, which was installed this past summer. The main track has been closed to training since Dec. 5.
“We’re still testing, trying different combinations of sand, wax, and rubber,” Charles told the board. “We’re hoping to be completed by Tuesday (Dec. 18) and have horses back working (on the track) Wednesday (Dec. 19).”
Charles emphasized that Santa Anita's main track will not be dangerous for horses and jockeys. “We’re not going to put them on something that isn’t safe,” he said. “We will race at Santa Anita.”
Paul Harper, technical director for Cushion Track, explained the process of fixing the new surface. All the upper layers had to be removed and the subsurface blasted with water in an attempt to open up its pores, he said. Silt from ultra-fine sand, it was discovered, had jammed the holes in an asphalt layer over the actual drainage system.
“We’ve washed the tarmac and made it porous enough,” said Harper, who noted that he’s personally spent 60 days in the past three months working on the dilemma. “Now, we’re tweaking the actual surface to get it ready. We’ve modified the grain (of sand) and the wax.”
Meeting at Hollywood Park in Inglewood, CHRB chairman Richard Shapiro and other board members impressed on Harper that time was of the essence. “We need to know that you understand the severity and the urgency of getting this product right,” Shapiro told Harper.
Meanwhile, horsemen remain patient that Santa Anita won’t be running an all-turf program on opening day.
“It’s a major construction project,” said Ed Halpern, executive director of the California Thoroughbred Trainers. “The trainers have been really understanding that Santa Anita is trying to find a solution to this problem, which was no fault of its own.”
About 1,400 horses are currently stabled at Santa Anita. During the Cushion Track reconstruction, horses have been using the turf and training track during extended training hours for their daily gallops and workouts, Halpern said. Santa Anita also has offered to pay for vanning to Hollywood Park for any trainer who wants to work a horse at that facility.
“It’s not just one section of the track that’s affected but the whole thing,” Halpern added.
Hollywood Park, whose current meet ends Dec. 22, also uses Cushion Track. But the synthetic-surface company used a finer grain of sand at Santa Anita. Also, Hollywood Park does not have an under layer of asphalt to its Cushion Track. It has had no drainage issues.
“People are dealing with it,” Halpern said of the Santa Anita situation. “(Track management) is confident it’ll be done by (Dec. 18), but there are no guarantees.”