Surface Switch: Going Hollywood?

Surface Switch: Going Hollywood?
Photo: Benoit
After the drainage problems with the Santa Anita Cushion Track, the CHRB OKs some or all of Santa Anita's dates to be run at Hollywood Park.
The California Horse Racing Board, meeting in a brief emergency session by teleconference Jan. 8, cleared the way for the Los Angeles Turf Club to move some or all of Santa Anita's 2008 winter/spring racing dates to Hollywood Park.

The action amending LATC's operating license to allow the change passed unanimously with little discussion. However, Ron Charles, Santa Anita's president, cryptically told the board that the flexibility to use Hollywood Park's facilities for racing, requested because Santa Anita's Cushion Track is plagued with vertical drainage problems, may not be necessary after all.

"We're going to come forward with a contingency plan that will allow us to race safely, even in the rain," he said. "Where we are now, it's up to us to address this problem that we've inherited from Cushion Track

“Today, rather than elaborate on the details and add to further speculation, we will be making that decision and have an announcement within the next 48 hours that we believe will be well-received.”

Charles said the plan would allow training of horses. Horses have been able to train over Santa Anita's main track for only two of the past six weeks, greatly inconveniencing horsemen.

CHRB chairman Richard Shapiro, conducting the meeting from his investment office in Calabasas, said officials "would be on the edge of their seats," waiting for Santa Anita's announcement. But he made the comment after scheduling a second special phone meeting Jan. 17 at 9 a.m. to consider a waiver to the board's 2006 synthetic track mandate for Santa Anita this year. That regulation required that all major Thoroughbred tracks in the state install an all-weather racing surface by Jan. 1, 2008.

A waiver, if approved, would allow Santa Anita to replace the synthetic track with a conventional dirt racing surface. Santa Anita installed its Cushion Track last summer.

Charles, who was promoted Jan. 7 to chief operating officer of Magna Entertainment Corp., said it was good to have the license amendment in place while it deals with the Cushion Track problem. MEC owns Santa Anita, which is operated by the LATC.

Santa Anita canceled racing for three consecutive days Jan. 5-7 due to safety issues caused by the lack of drainage. It was the first time in Santa Anita's 71-year history that it postponed racing for three straight days. The Southern California track was hit by more than seven inches of rain during a four-day period that ended the morning of Jan. 7.

Shapiro said a full discussion of the Santa Anita predicament would be held during the board's regularly scheduled meeting Jan. 16 at Arcadia City Hall. He said the waiver proposal required a special meeting because it was not included on the agenda of the Jan. 16 session.

Charles said Santa Anita officials would meet with the California Thoroughbred Trainers and the Thoroughbred Owners of California in the next two days before announcing their contingency plan. He did not return a phone call seeking further comment.

Racing is expected to resume at Santa Anita Jan. 10.

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