Santa Anita Park plans to interrupt its training schedule in mid-July to peel back and inspect the base of the main track, said Ron Charles, president of the Arcadia, Calif., facility.
Giving trainers one-month notice, Charles said the work at Santa Anita is tentatively scheduled to begin July 15, less than a week before the Del Mar meet is to commence, and the main track is likely to be closed for a period of 10 days to two weeks. During that time, the training track will be available for workouts and exercise, the starting gate will be accessible and conditioning hours will be extended.
"We wanted to pick a time that was the least disruptive to training schedules," Charles said. "It was felt by mid-July a number of trainers will have either shipped to Del Mar or completed their major preparations for the early part of the seaside meet."
Charles said Santa Anita is taking the action--with the blessing of track owner Magna Entertainment Corp.--to alleviate concerns about the safety of the main track. Live racing returns to Santa Anita for the Oak Tree Racing Association meet Sept. 27-Oct. 29.
"We want to see if there is a problem with the base," he said. "We want to rule out problems with the base if we can, but if there are problems, we want to address them. We want to create as safe a racing surface at Santa Anita as we can."
Previous efforts to inspect the track's base have been only partial, he noted, so this will be a complete analysis. "We are going to open up the entire track," Charles said.
Despite concerns, the decision has the support of the California Thoroughbred Trainers. Ed Halpern, executive director of the CTT, said there are safety issues involved with working so many horses, especially 2-year-olds, on the training track. He said he has received dozens of comments, both good and bad, from trainers about Santa Anita's main track, and applauded Charles for undertaking an inspection the trainers had been urging for the past six years.
"It's an inconvenience and it's disruptive, but people can work around it, and it's not that long a period to deal with," Halpern said. "Certainly, Ron Charles wants to do everything possible to make Santa Anita the best racetrack it can be. We are lucky to have him."
Santa Anita, like all of the major Thoroughbred tracks in the state, is required by the California Horse Racing Board to install a synthetic racing surface by the end of 2007. Santa Anita could do so next summer, Charles said, though MEC is committed to changing over Golden Gate Fields first.