The original Cushion Track synthetic surface installed last summer didn’t drain properly, causing Santa Anita to lose 11 days of live racing earlier this year, though with makeups the track ultimately lost a total of eight days. The addition of materials in February by Ian Pearse of Pro-Ride Australia allowed the track to finish the meeting without any further closures and to generally good reviews from horsemen.
“Ian came in for four days and did a miracle,” Charles said. “Now we are going to perform several tests and make sure we can have as good a synthetic surface as there can be.”
Frank Stronach, chairman of Santa Anita parent company Magna Entertainment, attended the races over Santa Anita’s final weekend and met with a group of trainers and with the Thoroughbred of California board of directors. Though he is a proponent of dirt surfaces, he agreed to continue with a synthetic surface at Santa Anita because the majority of horsemen he spoke with felt the synthetic surface was much safer for horses and riders.
“He’s willing to do so, provided we have a comfort level with the surface on several different aspects,” Charles said.
Concerns have not only been raised as to drainage in wet weather, but with the track’s surface temperature as the weather warms up, as well as environmental issues.
“Should the tests come out fine,” Charles said, “we’re looking at bringing Ian back and enhancing the Pro-Ride surface.”
Pro-Ride uses a polymer-based binder, whereas Cushion Track used wax. If Santa Anita chooses Pro-Ride, then ultimately the surface will more closely resemble an all Pro-Ride surface instead of the combination of the old Cushion Track and the Pro-Ride materials. However, Charles emphasized that a final decision has not been made.
Golden Gate Fields, another Magna track, installed a Tapeta surface, which also uses wax. That surface performed well during Golden Gate’s recent meeting. Michael Dickinson of Tapeta Footings was at Santa Anita over the final weekend, and Tapeta remains under consideration for the Southern California track.
Santa Anita is scheduled as the site of the 2008 and 2009 Breeders’ Cup during the fall Oak Tree Racing Association meetings. Charles said that any testing and decisions as to main-track surface will also include input from the Breeders’ Cup.