Anne M. Eberhardt

New Surface for Santa Anita Later This Year

Santa Anita will replace its racing surface after the current winter/spring meet.

Santa Anita Park president Ron Charles confirmed Jan. 19 that the California track will replace its synthetic surface later this year after completing the current race meet.

“We will replace it following the spring/summer meeting at Hollywood Park,” Charles said. Santa Anita acts as an off-site training facility during Hollywood Park’s meet.

Charles declined to say what type of surface Santa Anita will put in its place. Many people have speculated that Santa Anita will return to a traditional dirt surface, though Golden Gate Fields, like Santa Anita owned by Magna Entertainment Corp., has a Tapeta synthetic surface.

Charles said he hoped to have an announcement soon on the decision.

The current Santa Anita surface is not draining properly, which led to racing being canceled Jan. 18 when heavy rain hit Southern California. More rain is expected this week, which may force Santa Anita to cancel more cards. Racing was not scheduled for Jan. 19 or 20.

Charles said the decision to replace the surface was made some time ago, and that the current weather did not cause the decision. The wrong sand was used when Cushion Track was initially installed in the summer of 2007, Charles said, and the track failed to drain during the 2007-08 meet, leading to the cancellation of 11 days of racing.

Santa Anita replaced the Cushion Track with a Pro-Ride surface, though Charles said workers never could get rid of all the sand. Santa Anita did not lose any cards during the 2008-09 season.

“We were very fortunate that Pro-Ride could come in and give us a usable track,” Charles said. “We are grateful for how hard they tried, but they agree that we have a surface that will always have problems because of the sand. That in essence is why it won’t drain.”

No matter what surface Santa Anita decides to put in, Charles said it will be completely redone so the sand doesn't continue to plague the track. Charles said maintenance costs have also been significant because of dealing with the sand, though he emphasized that isn't the reason for the change.

“We want to do the right thing,” Charles said.

California’s major tracks began installing synthetic surfaces in 2006 following a California Horse Racing Board mandate. That mandate is expected to be waived should any track decide to return to a dirt surface, though no track has as yet asked for a waiver.