“Ian Pearse from Australia is testing materials he believes, if added, could allow the water to drain,” Charles said. “He is currently at USC, and we’re expecting him out here later today. If this material continues to work well in the lab, we’ll consider testing it on parts of the racetrack.”
Pearse is the developer of Pro-Ride, a synthetic surface in use at several training centers in Australia.
The Cushion Track material contains a fine silt that bonds to water and doesn't drain vertically as it should, according to Charles.
The other option under consideration is for Santa Anita to replace the Cushion Track with dirt, pending the approval of a waiver to do so from the California Horse Racing Board. The CHRB has scheduled a special meeting Jan. 17 to consider such a waiver. The situation is being evaluated on a “day-to-day basis,” Charles said.
“We’re also continuing to experiment with dirt and are looking at several different samples,” Charles said. “If we go with dirt, we’re going to put in the best possible sandy loam.”
The past two days, track officials have met with trainers and owner representatives for the California Thoroughbred Trainers and the Thoroughbred Owners of California to apprise them of the options the track is considering. Charles said that Del Mar could be a training option should the track have to close for a period of time.
Charles said he could not speculate as to the exact dates the track would close should it be decided to re-install a dirt surface. Such a renovation could take eight to 10 days, he said, but he added that they would try to schedule it to minimize lost racing dates. He said there was a possibility of running all-grass cards on the weekend.
"This is just too big a decision, with too much at stake, to rush into."
The CHRB amended Santa Anita’s license Jan. 8 so that some or all of the dates could be switched to Hollywood Park.
“We don’t foresee having to go to Hollywood Park,” said Charles, who added that having that option gives them the flexibility should it become necessary.
Asked whether a possible renovation could affect the Jan. 26 Sunshine Millions, Charles acknowledged the difficulty of finding an optimum time to re-install dirt.
“Right now, the most important thing is the safety of the horses and riders,” Charles said. “Obviously, we’re concerned about the Sunshine Millions, but equally important is clearing up the uncertainty of the rest of the meet whenever it rains.”
Also of concern is the 2008 Breeders’ Cup, to be held at Santa Anita. Charles said that, if Santa Anita re-installs dirt. they would evaluate the situation with Breeders’ Cup as well as with horsemen following the close of the meeting April 20.
Santa Anita lost an unprecedented three days of racing because of rainy weather canceling the Jan. 5, 6 and 7 cards. Racing resumed Jan. 10 and is expected to continue as scheduled through Jan. 14 with good weather in the forecast. All sprints Jan. 10 were shortened to 5 1/2 furlongs because the six-furlong chute had taken the worst of the rain. Longer sprint races are carded for Jan. 11 and beyond.
The graded stakes lost over the previous weekend -- the San Pasqual Handicap (gr. II), Santa Ysabel Stakes (gr. III), and San Gorgonio Handicap (gr. IIT) -- were rescheduled for the upcoming weekend.