Del Mar Gets Initial Approval for Synthetic Track

The Del Mar Thoroughbred Club gained unanimous approval Sept. 12  to install an $8 million synthetic surface  from the board of directors of the agricultural district that oversees the seaside track.

Craig Fravel, Del Mar's executive vice president, said the California Coastal Commission's authorization is all that remains before the track can proceed with plans to replace its one-mile main track. He said the DMTC, which leases the track from the agricultural district, is finishing its environmental filings and permit requests in order to have the application heard by the coastal commission at its October meeting.

No decision has been made on which synthetic surface will be used. Fravel said the bidding process would begin once the project is authorized. If approved next month, work on removing the existing track would begin early next year with the new surface expected to be in place in time for the 2007 season.

Fravel has been a leading backer of synthetic surfaces due to safety concerns. This has been an especially sensitive issue at Del Mar, which  -- because of its isolation from other Southern California racetracks --  is in heavy use for training during the summer season, contributing to a problem with injuries and catastrophic breakdowns.

"I think the whole reason for doing this is the consistency factor, having the same track condition day in and day out," he said. "(Synthetic surface) doesn't mean you'll never have a breakdown, but the chances for reducing them are much higher."

Del Mar saw  18 horses euthanized during the seven-week meet that ended Sept. 6 -- 10 during races and eight in morning workouts. Fourteen horses were lost in 2005 and 17 died in 2004.

In addition to improving safety, the new surface would save an estimated $500,000 a year in maintenance costs, Fravel reported.

Del Mar's main track is 80 feet wide through the stretch and includes chutes for seven and 10-furlong races. It measures 585,000 square feet.

Del Mar joins Hollywood Park, which is in the process of installing an artificial surface in time for its fall/winter meeting, and Golden Gate Fields, which plans to replace its dirt track beginning in June. Earlier this year, the California Horse Racing Board mandated that all five major racetracks in the state convert from dirt to synthetic surfaces by the end of 2007.