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Santa Anita to Close for Track Fix

Th California Horse Racing Board got an update on the Santa Anita Cushion Track.

A liquid binder officials believe will save Santa Anita Park’s Cushion Track should take about 10 days to acquire and another four to mix with the synthetic racing surface, the California Horse Racing Board was told Jan. 16.

Track president Ron Charles expressed confidence the polymer blend, which is manufactured by Pro-Ride Racing of Australia, is the answer to the vertical drainage problem that has beset Santa Anita’s Cushion Track since it was installed last summer. Extensive laboratory testing has been going on for the past several weeks, leading to the Pro-Ride breakthrough.

“We believe it will provide a much safer racing surface,” Charles said during the CHRB meeting in Arcadia. “It will dramatically reduce kickback. It’s incredibly encouraging.”

After the meeting, Charles said he isn't sure when the re-mixing would begin because it's unclear how long it will take to manufacture all the binder required for the huge project.

“We want to do it as soon as we can," he said. "We’ll work with the horsemen so that they’ll miss as little time as possible."

Charles said the main track would probably have to be closed for training for four days, including two days of racing. Once the project is completed, Santa Anita will look at ways to recover lost dates. The track was closed for three consecutive days Jan. 5-7 due to the drainage issue.

Charles said the binding liquid surrounds or encapsulates the fine silt in the Cushion Track material, permitting the drainage of water through several inches of synthetic surface. He said a demonstration of the binder for several trainers Jan. 15 was received favorably.

He told the board the kickback problem, which has forced some jockeys to wear face shields, was the result of some of the track’s asphalt base breaking loose when maintenance workers tried to power wash it to open up drainage pockets.

“Some of those pieces worked their way to the top,” Charles explained. He said most of the rocks have been removed, and the problem “is going to be greatly diminished” in coming days.

Said CHRB chairman Richard Shapiro: “I’m very pleased to see that so many people are enthused (about the additive). I’m very hopeful that this will solve the problem.”

Meanwhile, Cliff Goodrich, former Santa Anita president and currently a representative of Fairplex Park, said everyone "wants to play Monday morning quarterback” with the board’s 2006 decision mandating synthetic racing surfaces for the state’s major Thoroughbred tracks.

“To my knowledge there were six open committee hearings” leading up to the board’s action, he said. “I didn’t see one person during any of those meetings accuse the board of ‘a rush to judgment’ as has been written about and spoken of on the radio. Any new technology is going to have some growing pains. We at Fairplex fully support the board’s decision."

Ed Halpern, executive director of the California Thoroughbred Trainers, said his board continues to support synthetic tracks, as do most of the trainers his organization has polled. “Trainers, with only rare exceptions, feel they like these new tracks and they do not want to go back to dirt tracks,” Halpern said.

Owner Jerry Jamgotchian told the board the decision “has cost racing millions of dollars.”

Jerry Moss, the only member of the racing board to not go along with the board mandate – he abstained – said tracks “have not had such great support from (synthetic track) manufacturers. If we don’t get better support and we wind up with bad racetracks, this is going to hurt California."

In other action, the board authorized Richard Bon Smith, the CHRB’s assistant executive director, to act as interim head of the agency while the search for a replacement for Ingrid Fermin continues. Fermin left her post this month after a three-year tenure.

Smith, who said after the meeting he is not a candidate for the permanent job, expects the interview process to begin soon.