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Training Resumes at Golden Gate Fields

Synthetic main track was closed to training this week for two days of maintenance.

Horses returned to the Golden Gate Fields main track for gallops on the morning of Jan. 7 after the synthetic course was closed to training for two days for refurbishment.

Full workouts are expected to resume over the Tapeta Footings surface Jan. 8, according to Robert Hartman, the track's general manager. Golden Gate returns to regular racing action that day as well, beginning a four-day-a-week schedule that will last through the end of February.

"What we're doing is adding some wax and fiber to the racetrack," Hartman said during a morning interview Jan. 7. "We added the fiber on Monday (Jan. 5) and the wax yesterday. There's a truck on the track right now putting some more wax down.

"Over time, all artificial tracks need refurbishment," he said. "We found that the fibers and wax break down and that the track no longer has the bounce to it that it did originally."

With the demise of Bay Meadows, Golden Gate is the last remaining major racecourse in Northern California. Its main track is hosting year-round racing in 2009 except for a summer break for the county fair circuit, and its stalls are expected to remain full, meaning heavy usage. Some 300 horses had workouts on Jan. 4.

Hartman said that some trainers have expressed concern over the number of injuries to horses recently. He thinks the track will be restored to its original condition, which he said met with "universal praise" from horsemen when it was unveiled in November 2007. It had been open for training prior to that, so this is the first time in about 18 months that additional wax and fiber has been required.

Michael Dickinson, who created the Tapeta Footings formula -- a combination of  wax, rubber, carpet fibers and sand -- is at the 67-year-old Bay Area track this week to oversee the reconditioning project. He described the work as "routine" and said that his crew needed only four hours on each day to complete it. He added that it wasn't necessary to close the track except that "Mr. Hartman wanted to err on the side of caution."

Dickinson pronounced the project a success. "The riders are going to love this track tomorrow," he said.

Golden Gate is one of two tracks in the nation with a Tapeta racing surface, along with Presque Isle Downs , where there were just four catastrophic breakdowns in six months of racing from April through September 2008, a rate of .70 per 1,000 starters, according to the Pennsylvania HPBA.

"Our goal is for this track to match Presque Isle (in 2009)," the former trainer said. "That was the lowest fatality rate in America."

Hartman said that because of unfamiliarity with synthetic surfaces, issues such as the amount of water and maintenance the track needs require a learning curve, much the same as with a traditional dirt surface. Given the demands on the track, he said a regular maintenance similar to the one in progress this week would probably be required every six months to a year.

"It's a process," he said, comparing it to changing oil in the family vehicle. "You figure out out how often your car needs it, every  5,000 or 10,000 miles, and you take care of it. The trainers, for the most part, remain very upbeat about the track."

Also, Golden Gate's turf course began a sabbatical this week for replanting and will reopen in time for St. Patrick's Day March 17. All races will be conducted over the Tapeta surface until then. Hartman said that he did not believe the lack of a turf course will reduce the horse population, since most turf horses adapt well to synthetic tracks.