It took only two races over Santa Anita’s renovated Cushion Track for a horse to set a track record. Though times were quick, horses won from a variety of positions on opening day, Dec. 26, and the racing appeared to be formful. More importantly, the synthetic surface continued to be safe.
"The fast times kind of surprised us," said Ron Charles, Santa Anita’s president. "The workouts had been consistently slower than at Oak Tree, so we thought the times might be a little slower."
In the second race, the California Breeders’ Champion Stakes, first of the day’s three stakes, front-running Bob Black Jack raced seven furlongs in 1:20.37, .53 seconds faster than the previous mark. Track records only date back to the fall Oak Tree Racing Association, the first meeting run over the Cushion Track at Santa Anita, but Spectacular Bid set the seven-furlong dirt mark of 1:20 in 1980. Later on opening day, in the Malibu Stakes (gr. I) also at seven furlongs, Johnny Eves won in 1:21.08.
The Cal Breeders’ followed the meet opener, when Sweet August Moon won over 5 1/2 furlongs in 1:02.32, just .01 off the track record.
"She handled it better than the others," said an elated Brian Koriner, trainer of Sweet August Moon. "There’s a lot of sand in the track. The mornings have been good. It’s just a matter of seeing if it drains when it rains."
Santa Anita renovated the Cushion Track surface because the track failed to drain properly during the Oak Tree meeting. Fine sand and wax clogged the asphalt base, and so the renovation project, which took from Dec. 5-21, involved removing the material down to the base, cleaning the asphalt, and then mixing in coarser sand and more synthetic materials.
While the drainage has improved, Charles said that the asphalt still isn’t draining the way track officials and the maintenance crew would like and that they are consulting with scientists in continuing efforts to improve it.
"Until then, we are going to do the best we can, probably going back to somewhat of an old-fashioned type of maintenance program of sealing (when it rains)," said Charles.
Santa Anita will be dark Dec. 27 and open again Dec. 28, when the forecast calls for just a 10% chance of rain.