California Senate OKs Polytrack Legislation

A bill that would require major racetracks in California to install a polymer synthetic type-racing surface by the end of 2007 sailed through the State Senate on May 11.

SB 1464, authored by Sen. Jeff Denham (R-Merced), advances to the California Assembly on a vote of 31-4. The measure requires that the switch in surface be completed as a condition of issuing a license to any track that operates four weeks of continuous Thoroughbred racing in a calendar year. The tracks that would be affected under the existing allocation of racing dates in the state are Santa Anita, Hollywood Park, Golden Gate Fields, Bay Meadows and Del Mar.

The bill follows a unanimous endorsement of the change to a synthetic surface by the California Horse Racing Board in February.

But Richard Shapiro, chairman of the CHRB and a staunch supporter of synthetic surfaces, said the agency wants to retain the flexibility to move slower should events dictate.

"We want to be absolutely sure in all ways," he said. "The environment, our climate, what's best for jockeys, respiratory issues ... we want to be sure that what we install is something that will work here.

"If, say, Golden Gate and Del Mar want to go ahead and the other tracks want to see how that goes before moving forward, I am receptive to that. We want a time line that is prudent."

At the same time, he noted that statistics from Kentucky's Turfway Park, where Polytrack has been installed, "have been staggeringly positive for horses' health."

He said Del Mar and Golden Gate Fields are the most likely tracks to move forward on Polytrack first. The cost of installing a synthetic surface has been estimated at between $6 million and $9 million per track. A separate bill pending in the legislature would assist racing associations with the cost.

Also on May 11, the Senate approved by a 34-1 vote a bill that would lift the existing 23-race daily limit on the number of races that can be imported nationally and internationally into California for the purposes of propositional wagering only. The bill, SB 1692 by Sen. Edward Vincent (D-Los Angeles), goes to the Assembly next.