Training on the dirt at Santa Anita.

Training on the dirt at Santa Anita.

Santa Anita 'Feeling Way' With New Surface

Santa Anita continues to tinker with its new dirt surface after heavy rains.

There has been one racing fatality following a breakdown in the first eight days of competition on Santa Anita Park’s new dirt track, according to the California Horse Racing Board equine medical director. Another death was attributable to a training accident.

In all, seven horses, including one Jan. 6, have been removed from the track by horse van following races, according to a tally kept by the track. CHRB equine medical director Dr. Rick Arthur said Jan. 6 he’s unsure of whether the horses were vanned off following dirt or turf racing, or whether the actions were taken due to injuries or other factors, such as pulmonary bleeding.

One horse reportedly was euthanized following its removal from the track after a $12,500 claiming race Dec. 29. Arthur said the other fatality was a Richard Mandella-trained filly that died overnight after suffering internal injuries when she bolted during a gate-schooling exercise on the track during training hours Jan. 5 and collided with a pair of horses trained by David Hofmans. The accident occurred near the inside rail of the clubhouse turn.

The meet began Dec. 26 with extremely fast times on the main track, but times have steadily returned to normal. In assessing the meet thus far, Arthur noted that track maintenance workers had been dealing with record rainfall since mid-December—more than 14 inches—and haven’t had much opportunity to work with the surface’s consistency.

“I think they are feeling their way with the (new) track,” Arthur said of track maintenance superintendent Richard Tedesco and his crew. “I don’t know if they are there yet. I don’t think so. Because of all of the rain, they really didn’t have a chance to experiment with it the way I am sure they would have liked.”

There were just two racing-related fatalities during the entire 2009-10 racing season at Santa Anita, when racing was conducted on a Pro-Ride engineered synthetic surface. The switch back to a main track composed of 90% sand and 10% clay was made in the off-season following the complaints of horsemen, who refused to hold the Oak Tree Racing Association meet at Santa Anita last fall due to safety concerns about the artificial surface.

“That’s somewhat misleading,” Arthur said of last year’s fatality rate. “That was such an exceptionally safe year; everything just worked out. Richard Tedesco did a great job with that (synthetic) track, and I’m sure his guys are going to do a great job with this track, too.”

Tedesco and his crew closed the main track for training at 8:30 a.m. PST Jan. 6 to work on an area past the finish line that had been having problems draining. The operation was a success, and racing proceeded without interruption during the afternoon.

Santa Anita president George Haines couldn’t be reached for comment.