Rain that hit Southern California before Santa Anita had a chance to apply new materials to its Cushion Track synthetic surface forced several more days of cancellations. Santa Anita lost Jan. 24, 25, 27, and 28 due to weather, but a 24-hour break allowed the track to host its half of the Sunshine Millions program Jan. 26 (see page 724).
Because rain had been forecast for the night of Jan. 23, a scheduled dark day, track superintendent Richard Tedesco and his crew had attempted to seal the surface in the hopes racing could proceed Jan. 24. However, hail that pelted the track at 5 a.m. ended any thoughts of being able to run.
“That just doomed us,” said a frustrated Ron Charles, president of Santa Anita. “It hit and then melted down into a surface that doesn’t drain.”
Santa Anita has battled the drainage problems posed by the Cushion Track since December, when crews undertook a three-week renovation project. The track opened on schedule Dec. 26, but then rain forced cancellation of the Jan. 5-7 cards when moisture still didn’t drain through the fine sand and asphalt base.
Management decided to add new material from Pro-Ride Racing of Australia with the help of Pro-Ride’s Ian Pearse. However, the material had not arrived by the time the next heavy rainstorm hit the area. The material includes a liquid binder and is expected to solve the drainage problems.
Once the track lost the Jan. 24-25 programs, management worked on contingency plans for the Sunshine Millions card. It proved logistically difficult to move tote boards, tote equipment, and money across town to possible venue Hollywood Park, and the weather reports were forecasting sun for Sunshine Millions day.
“It’s doubtful we could get the tote board across town on one day’s notice,” said George Haines, Santa Anita’s vice president and general manager. “The funds to operate a mutuel department are astronomical, and to move that money across town, which is insured at Santa Anita but may not be insured at Hollywood, is a very big risk for us.”
As it turned out, Santa Anita was able to conduct the Sunshine Millions card in beautiful weather, with 28,414 in attendance on track and all-sources handle of more than $17 million. Clouds moved in before the end of the day, though, and rain began falling that evening. On the morning of Jan. 27, track management canceled the cards for Jan. 27-28.
The loss of the Jan. 27 card meant the postponement of the $250,000 Santa Monica Handicap (gr. I), which racing secretary Rick Hammerle rescheduled for Feb. 2.
Charles said the track would be re-leveled during its regular dark days, Jan. 29-30, and racing was to resume Jan. 31-Feb. 3 with a dry forecast.
“We plan at this point to run through Sunday, Feb. 3, and we hope to begin the process of amending the surface at that point with the synthetic Pro-Ride polymer binder and fiber,” Charles said. “If conditions allow us to begin work at that time, we would cancel live racing Monday, Feb. 4.”
Under that scenario, Santa Anita would also likely lose its Feb. 7 card and re-open for live racing Feb. 8.
“We realize a lot of people are being inconvenienced by the changes we have had to make,” said Charles. “The owners and trainers, along with our fans, are right at the top of the list.”
Many in the industry have discussed the possibility of moving all or some of Santa Anita’s dates to Hollywood Park. That track is renovating its turf course for its upcoming spring meeting, and so any move across town would have been without turf racing.
“We have been in consultation with the CHRB (California Horse Racing Board) regarding the races and dates we’ve had to cancel,” Charles said, “and we’re confident we will be able to make up most, and likely all, of these dates and races at this meet. Once we are able to get to work amending the main track, we are very hopeful we can get back on schedule and get back to business as usual here.”