Santa Anita plans to renovate its main track next month, adding sand to the composition during a remediation that is expected to last no longer than two weeks.
Track officials updated the California Horse Racing Board on plans to repair the dirt track during its meeting June 23 at Hollywood Park. Santa Anita president George Haines said that after extensive testing on the existing surface, "We do know that the composition of the track has way too much clay."
Greg Avioli of the Stronach Group, which expects to complete acquisition of Santa Anita from MI Developments at the end of the month, said the company will assume all costs with the refurbishment.
"We take this issue very seriously," he said. "We have as big a stake in getting this right as anyone in this room. It's got the highest level of priority for us."
Haines said that after meeting with horsemen and state racing officials June 22, it was agreed that the process will begin July 11. A test portion of the track, the seven-furlong chute, will be refurbished first.
The current track surface was installed in time for the winter/spring meet, replacing the former hybrid synthetic track that had received thumbs down from horsemen. The new track sustained 15 inches of rain in late December and early January, and officials believe that was a contributing factor in the loss of sand. Sand was added to the track on a couple of occasions during the meet.
During the renovation period, the training track will remain open as will the facilities at Hollywood Park, which ends its spring/summer meet July 17. Racing resumes at Santa Anita in late September.
"Everybody has the same goal," CHRB vice chairman David Israel said. "It has to be safe, it has to be fair and it has to stand up to the elements. Two out of the three isn't good enough."
Kirk Breed. executive director of the CHRB, said a great deal of scientific study has gone into the engineering of the surface to determine the correct standard mixture of sand, silt and clay for Santa Anita.
Safety became a major issue during the course of the last meet, which ended in mid-April. There were 19 equine fatalities on the main track during racing and training, according to the CHRB's statistics.
Tom Robbins, vice president of racing at Del Mar, expressed concern that the renovation period might last longer than the estimated 10 to 14 days, which could adversely affect horses being prepared for the San Diego County meet.
Del Mar plans to race five days a week this summer, and some feel that may be stretching the available horse population. Robbins asked if Santa Anita could help trainers pay for shipping costs to train at Hollywood Park.
"We do have a dog in this fight," he said. "We don't want to lose any days at Del Mar."
In addition to the main track, a Santa Anita official told the board that approximately 4,000 square feet of new sod has been added to the turf course and extensive aeration was also done to alleviate several areas of concern.