"It's designed to be an all-weather track. At this point, it's anything but," Mike Willman, director of publicity at Santa Anita, said Jan. 3. "If we get the heavy rain that is forecast, there is a very strong possibility we will have to cancel racing at some point."
In a Jan. 2 press release, Paul Harper, technical director of Cushion Track Footings, said that trying to create a synthetic track that could withstand temperatures of up to 110 degrees "was in hindsight a mistake as this has almost certainly compromised the drainage characteristics of the surface.
“After extensive testing, which is still going on even now, the experiments indicate that the sand seems to be the area of concern," Harper said. "Over the past few weeks and following extensive efforts, the drainage has improved.”
Ron Charles, president of Santa Anita for Magna Entertainment Corp., said in a phone interview that while drainage has improved in part, "it is nowhere near" the level it needs to be. He said that the additional silt that Cushion Track used in the sand and wax mixture -- and makes it different from the engineered surface at Hollywood Park -- prevents water from draining through properly.
Weather forecasters are predicting four to five inches of rain from a series of storms moving through the region late on Jan. 3 and continuing through Jan. 6. Charles said Santa Anita will seal its main track prior to racing each day "and hope the water doesn't penetrate down" where it will cause the sand and silt in the lower layers to clog.
"To a certain extent, the water will run off (after sealing the surface)," Charles said. "So, we're unfortunately going to have to treat the Cushion Track pretty much the same we'd prepare the old dirt track when it rains."
He said teams of engineers, chemists and scientists have been experimenting in the laboratory with various options for improving drainage "to see if we can come up with an answer before the end of the meet."
In an attempt to repair the drainage problem, Santa Anita closed its main track to training for most of December. The track reopened less than a week before the meet started Dec. 26. Santa Anita installed the Cushion Track last summer.
Harper said that the Santa Anita issue is a circumstance that his company has not encountered before. He noted that many Cushion Track installations, including the one installed in 2006 at Hollywood Park, have been well received by the horsemen and the industry.
He said that he hoped to be able to find a remedy that will stabilize the track and allow it to drain vertically.
“If we are unable to do that,” he said in the release, “we will install a new surface at the end of the meet. At Cushion Track Footings USA, we are committed to the success of the track at Santa Anita and we will do whatever is necessary to get the track working to the same high standards Cushion Track performs to at other tracks around the world.”
Replacing the Cushion Track material would cost about $6 million, Charles estimated. He said Santa Anita has spent $11 million on the project so far.