By Tracy Gantz and Jack Shinar
With a month left in its current winter meeting, Santa Anita is continuing to work with the California Thoroughbred Trainers and the California Horse Racing Board on its new dirt surface.
“The track has yet to stabilize as to the sand, silt, and clay content,” said Dr. Rick Arthur, equine medical director for the CHRB. “That is not unusual when you put in a new track.”
Arthur reported that through training hours of March 17, seven racing fatalities had occurred on the main track, which included a horse that fell over a downed horse that had clipped heels. Another six fatalities occurred during training, including one horse injured in a collision with another horse and one sudden death. Five racing fatalities have occurred on the turf course and no training fatalities on the training track.
Those figures prompted CHRB chairman Keith Brackpool to address the issue briefly at the start of the board’s March 14 meeting at Santa Anita.
“It’s a great concern to this board and something we will watch very carefully,” Brackpool said. “There’s a great deal of conversation taking place and great deal of action. We just have to continue what we’ve been doing on that and continue the testing (of the surface).”
Representatives of other industry organizations echoed Brackpool’s comments.
“We’re doing everything we can to make sure the track is fair and consistent,” said George Haines, president of Santa Anita. “We are continuing to have ongoing meetings with the CTT and are doing a lot of testing of surface materials and compaction rates.”
Santa Anita worked closely with the horsemen in choosing the mix of materials for the dirt surface, which initially consisted of 86% sand, 8% clay, and 6% silt.
“It takes a while for a track to stabilize,” said Arthur, “especially when you factor in the extreme amount of rain that we got at the first part of the meet. Moving past that, I think they are learning how to maintain the track and adjust it to the content that they wanted originally. I think it’s going to end up being a better track than the previous dirt track.”
The horsemen remain involved in all discussions through the CTT.
“Naturally, the trainers are concerned about any injury at the track,” said Alan Balch, executive director of the CTT, “whether potentially attributable to a racing surface or to any of the other innumerable factors. To that end, we have been working with Santa Anita and the California Horse Racing Board, looking at every incident in training or racing, and are closely monitoring the laboratory measurements as to the track’s ongoing composition. We will continue to work with them, with safety of the riders and horses our first priority.”
The CHRB is planning an extensive look at injury prevention at all California racetracks, a report that will begin at the April meeting of the board’s medication and safety committee.
“Safety, safety, safety has to be of paramount interest to us,” said Brackpool.
Arthur said that during the 2006-07 Santa Anita meeting, the last dirt surface before the conversion to a synthetic surface, there were 12 racing and 10 training fatalities on the main track. During the 2009-10 meeting, the last one with a synthetic surface, there were two racing and four training fatalities on the main track, five racing and one training on the turf course, and five training on the training track.
“Last year at Santa Anita was an exceptional year,” said Arthur. “It would be pretty hard for any track to compare with that. Everybody is on the same page—they all want the safest racetrack possible.”