Santa Anita Dirt Surface

Santa Anita Dirt Surface

Benoit Photography

New Santa Anita Surface Survives Latest Storm

Track reopens for training Dec. 23 with dogs up; 23 record official workouts.

Despite being pounded by rain for a fourth consecutive day, Santa Anita's new natural dirt main track opened for training with sunshine and partly cloudy skies on the morning of Dec. 23.

Twenty-three horses recorded official workouts over the main track, which had dogs up. The surface has its official unveiling when Santa Anita opens its winter meet for business Dec. 26. Among the horses working were a quartet from the Bob Baffert barn, including unbeaten Malibu Stakes (gr. I) contender Alcindor, who breezed a half-mile in :50 2/5.

“I just gave him a light little stroll around there,” said Baffert. The Hall of Fame trainer also worked La Brea Stakes (gr. I) contender Always a Princess and Sir Beaufort Stakes (gr. II) entrant Indian Firewater.

“Tomorrow we’ll be open to train rail to rail,” said track superintendent Richard Tedesco, who has made the track his second home since the storms hit. “I live in Manhattan Beach, but I’ve been staying at a hotel here for over a week so I could be close to the track. When I get home tonight, my dog will probably attack me.”

The rain, which began in earnest Dec. 17, has caused mudslides in the nearby San Gabriel foothills and surface flooding in the city of Arcadia. The latest storm hit the area hard late on the afternoon of Dec. 22.

“We’ve been out here since one o’clock this morning,” said Ted Malloy, who oversaw the installation of the new track. “It’s a very kind, yet firm surface and it drained exceptionally well. We’ve got the orange cones up 15 feet off the rail and this racetrack is fantastic this morning. We’ve been very cautious through all of this rain and we want to thank the horsemen for being so patient. Although the training track was open, we had to keep everyone off the main track until we got through this. I think the payoff is in the condition of the track this morning.

“We’ll take the cones down tomorrow and people can work down on the rail if they choose. The weather forecast is good for the next few days, and we’ll work with the surface to air it out as best we can right up until opening day on Sunday.”

Malloy said there was legitimate concern as to whether the new track would be capable of withstanding the latest pounding.

“We got hit very hard shortly after 4 p.m. yesterday. Huntington Drive was flooded on the south end of the parking lot and at that point there was nothing we could do except to wait it out and hope that the storm would move out, which it did early last night.

“This was one heck of a baptism, but I’m glad we got it when we did, as opposed to a few days later.”

Santa Anita will open for its 74th winter/spring season on Dec. 26, with a special first post time of noon. Two grade I stakes, the $250,000 Malibu and the $250,000 La Brea, highlight a nine-race program.