Santa Anita race track

Santa Anita race track

Courtesy of Santa Anita

Santa Anita Dirt Track to Undergo Renovation

Goal to return track to sand, silt, and clay in place when surface installed.

Santa Anita’s dirt racetrack will be undergoing renovation in the coming months to bring it back to the combination of sand, silt, and clay initially approved when the new dirt surface was installed late last year.

During an informal California Horse Racing Board hearing at Santa Anita May 17, representatives from the CHRB, Santa Anita, and the California Thoroughbred Trainers agreed that the silt and clay content in the dirt surface is now too high. The mixture should be 87.5% sand, 8% silt, and 4.5% clay. But after a month of racing and following bouts of heavy rain, tests last January showed that the combined silt and clay content rose to 18-19%.

The surface received rave reviews in the initial weeks following the Dec. 26 opening of the race meeting. CTT officials, in their report at the May 17 hearing, said that after the first of the year horsemen began reporting injuries, material was compacting under horses’ hooves, and jockeys complained about hard clods. CTT said that 40 horses were removed by ambulance during the Dec. 26-April 17 race meeting.

Ted Malloy, track consultant for MI Developments, which owns Santa Anita, said at the hearing that Santa Anita proposes removing 2 1/2” of the surface. More sand will be added to bring the surface back to the original specifications.

“We didn’t get what we planned to get,” Malloy said. “The first day we raced on it, it was super. I walked the track today and I hate it.”

Santa Anita plans to begin with a test section of about a sixteenth of a mile in the seven-furlong chute. A timetable for the renovation has yet to be set, pending availability of materials and testing. Malloy urged that a local testing lab be used to avoid delays in shipping tests out of state.

Trainer Darrell Vienna of the CTT said that one of the lessons learned from the initial installation is that it is easier to add clay than to subtract it. He and Malloy agreed that with this renovation, it would be best to err on the side of too little clay, adding clay later if testing indicated that was necessary.

In tandem with these hearings, the CHRB is working to develop testing standards for dirt surfaces.

“We’ve identified several standards that we’re trying to measure,” said Kirk Breed, executive director of the CHRB. “We’re trying to develop standards that are measurable that the maintenance people can use on a daily basis.”

Breed said that a summary of the hearing would be prepared for the participants and CHRB members and another meeting will be scheduled. One of the goals of the next meeting will be to determine the laboratory or laboratories that will be used for the ongoing track testing.