While track officials and horsemen make their final decisions on the composition of Santa Anita's new dirt racing surface, crews are to begin removal of the existing Pro-Ride synthetic material Oct. 11.
It is estimated the new main track will be ready for training by Dec. 6, according to a statement released by Santa Anita Sept. 30. The traditional winter/spring meeting is to begin on Dec. 26.
“Our Chairman, Frank Stronach, has made it abundantly clear that Santa Anita will install a state of the art, all natural dirt surface, that our best customers feel most comfortable with and that a majority of our owners, jockeys and horsemen feel more comfortable competing on,” said George Haines, Santa Anita president .
“This has been quite a process, one of great expense. We want to sincerely thank the City of Arcadia for expediting our requests for permits, which are needed in order to embark upon a project of this nature."
Haines said that project manager Ted Malloy, following a meeting with horsemen Sept. 28, is "close to a consensus as to what the composition of the soil is going to be."
Malloy, who has nearly four decades of experience in track maintenance, has overseen the installation of surfaces in several different locations around the country, Haines said.
“We stand on hallowed ground here at Santa Anita and we’re excited about getting back to natural dirt," Haines said. "Our fans and horsemen have told us they too are very anxious to get back to live racing on Dec. 26.”
Malloy said that safety is his number one priority.
“Whenever we build a track anywhere, our main concern is that horse and rider are safe,” he said. “This surface will be similar to those at Gulfstream, Churchill Downs, and to the Oklahoma track at Saratoga. The biggest challenge we’re facing is finding the right mix of soils.
“We’re going to put nine inches of a mixture of sand and clay on top of an eight-inch base. We can then harrow the cushion out of it and we can make it compacted enough that it’s going to sustain the weight of a horse going 40 miles per hour. This will enable us to make adjustments to the cushion as needed, depending on weather and traffic conditions.”
In the event of significant rainfall, Malloy said that unlike the current synthetic surface, Santa Anita’s new main track will not, for the most part, drain vertically. Santa Anita lost race days over the past three years due to the poor drainage of the synthetic track after heavy rainfall.
“This will be a traditional dirt surface in the sense that it will be a mixture of clay and sand and most of the water will be sheeted to the inside (rail) and the rest will evaporate," Malloy said. "The dirt surface that was here a few years ago had quite a bit of clay in it and when it was sealed (with heavy equipment), it became very hard which is something we want to avoid.”
Malloy said that in order to get the desired mixture for the top nine inches, the soils that are delivered to Santa Anita will be mixed on-site.
“We need to mix the top layer here," he said. "We’ve been able to find most of the materials locally, but the clay may have to come from a source that’s a little further away. This way we can directly oversee the mixing process and make sure it’s exactly what we need.”
Haines noted that Santa Anita has conducted an exhaustive search in order to find the best dirt to run on.
“We are going to be using the best soils available and we are very confident they are going to meet our needs,” said Haines. “It’s imperative that we get the right materials and the right mix of materials, as we anticipate having approximately 2,000 horses a day training over this surface, in addition to running eight to 10 races a day. It should be a great track to run on.”
Santa Anita has requested a waiver from the California Horse Racing Board to return to a natural dirt surface. The CHRB, which is expected to rule next month, currently mandates that major Thoroughbred tracks such as Santa Anita can be licensed only if they provide a synthetic racing surface.
For more information and a video-taped interview with Malloy, visit www.santaanita.com.