Safety was the watchword as Santa Anita became the third and final major Southern California racetrack to unveil its synthetic surface. Though Santa Anita’s times Sept. 26 -- the opening day of the Oak Tree Racing Association meeting -- were sprightly as opposed to the somewhat slow times this summer at Del Mar on Polytrack, horsemen praised the new surface as safe.
“I don’t care about times; I care about how the horses come back,” said trainer Bill Spawr, who won the day’s fourth race with Flight Leader. “It’s all about safety. I don’t care if they run (six furlongs in) 1:06.”
Flight Leader completed his six furlongs in 1:11.08, while Johnny Eves established the Cushion Track six-furlong mark of 1:08.05 in the race before. All Set won the sixth race, also at six furlongs, in 1:10.10, while other track records established were 1:16.57 for 6 1/2 furlongs by Megabyte, 1:23.57 for seven furlongs by Cherokee Tear, and 1:43.92 for 1 1/16 miles by Si Chimi.
Jockey Richard Migliore piloted Spawr’s horse and also praised the surface. “I worked horses yesterday and today, and I’m tickled. It couldn’t be any better as far as I’m concerned. It feels like a very safe racetrack,” he said.
The Cushion Track received a quick trial the weekend before Oak Tree began when an unseasonably hard rain hit Southern California Sept. 22. Track management discovered the surface did not drain as anticipated, and out of that came a decision to harrow the track deeply every Monday. Some horsemen canceled or postponed works for the next couple days, and one horse, the promising 2-year-old Drill Down, took a bad step during a workout Sept. 24, fractured his left cannon bone, and had to be euthanized.
Despite that fatality, which Drill Down’s trainer, Mike Machowsky, did not blame on the track surface, horsemen have felt horses generally like the Cushion Track. Hollywood Park installed Cushion Track a year ago.
“The horses’ attitude is happier,” said Spawr. “They’ve stopped jarring (as on a dirt surface). It’s not hard; it’s not giving way. It has a bounce.”
Said Sherwood Chillingworth, Oak Tree’s executive vice president: “Artificial tracks in general are a proven commodity. . . . all the stalls at Hollywood Park are filled, all our stalls are filled, everything over at Fairplex is filled. It’s because very few horses had injuries at Del Mar.”
Ron Charles, president of the Los Angeles Turf Club at Santa Anita, said, “One of the things that we’re probably most pleased about is the fact that we’ve not seen the variation from the morning. Today it was 90 degrees, and the horses were traveling over it very similarly to what they were at 5:30 in the morning. And that’s what we’re looking for.”