Santa Anita's dirt surface.

Santa Anita's dirt surface.

Benoit Photo

Training Begins on New Santa Anita Surface

Dirt surface replaces the synthetic material that was installed in 2007.

Santa Anita opened its new dirt track to horses the morning of Dec. 6. With most horses still stabled across town at Hollywood Park while that meeting winds down to its Dec. 19 conclusion, a few horses galloped on the new surface, which is a mixture of 90% sand and 10% clay.

The opening on schedule was particularly satisfying to Santa Anita officials because rain pelted Southern California the night before, at times coming down hard. Project manager Ted Malloy said that they had sealed the track Dec. 5 in anticipation of the rain. They opened it back up for training the next morning with the “dogs” up.

“It’s great to be open again,” said George Haines, Santa Anita’s president. “We’re very happy—we’re right on schedule. We’ve had input from the horsemen and from the CHRB (California Horse Racing Board).”

Haines said that the track surface underwent extensive testing, including the use of a GPS device to ensure that the balance remains correct. The track, which replaces the synthetic surface that failed to drain properly, has a base of 6-8 inches and 10 inches of cushion material. Haines said that the 10 inches is cut so that the top 3 1/2 inches essentially make up the cushion on which the horses will run and the rest is compacted beneath.

The stable area opened Dec. 5, giving trainers three weeks until the traditional Dec. 26 opening of the Santa Anita winter-spring meeting. Santa Anita officials noted that about 200 horses were stabled on the grounds Dec. 6, with many more expected later in the day.

The dirt surface has already attracted trainers from out of state. Tom Proctor brought in a string and has been running at Hollywood Park. Steve Asmussen is sending a large string, and Bill Mott is expected to have horses in Southern California for the winter.

Carla Gaines and A.C. Avila were among the trainers to move in Dec. 5. Gaines brought her stable from Hollywood, while Avila came from Pomona. Darrell Vienna, who has worked with Santa Anita on the surface through the California Thoroughbred Trainers organization, was bringing his horses in Dec. 6, delaying their arrival by a day only because of the rain.

“It’s too early to judge the results, but we’re excited about the return to a natural surface,” Vienna said. “From a human standpoint, walking on it, it’s really got a great cushion. The texture is different than what we’ve had in California. It seems much finer.”

Vienna added that he was pleased with how the track took the seal with the rain.

“It looks dry—it doesn’t even look like it rained here,” he said while gazing out on the track from Clockers’ Corner.

Santa Anita officials have recommended that trainers give their horses time to become accustomed to the new surface before working them. The Pomona track is a five-furlong dirt surface, while Hollywood Park’s 1 1/8-mile main track has a Cushion Track synthetic surface.