Are Santa Anita’s Woes The Fault Of The Track or The Horsemen?

This week’s LET IT RIDE.COM HOT TOPIC comes from Art Wilson of The Daily Breeze…take a read and VOICE AN OPINION!

Santa Anita looks to be back on track

Santa Anita came under fire this past year when there were 19 fatalities over its new dirt track during the 2010-11 winter/spring meet.

The criticism was justified, too, because that’s way too many.

But before we fry track management over one bad meet, let’s give them a chance to rectify the situation and get it right.

I believe they will.

The problems started in December when Southern California received a higher-than-normal amount of rain that, according to Santa Anita officials, turned a lot of the new surface’s sand to clay.

“We started off with a great track, but unfortunately that track changed for whatever reason,” Santa Anita president George Haines told the California Horse Racing Board at its regularly scheduled meeting Thursday at Hollywood Park. “There are a bunch of different theories, but we do know now that the composition of the track has way too much clay in it and the way to solve that problem is to dilute that clay with clean sand material.”

Haines said management has found the new material, has it on site and it will take 10-14 days to remediate the track and get it the way it’s supposed to be once the testing is completed and the maintenance begins July 11.

Meanwhile, Haines and Greg Avioli, recently named president/CEO of Santa Anita owner Frank Stronach’s racing empire, have pledged to do whatever it takes to fix the problem.

Avioli, former president and CEO of the Breeders’ Cup, told CHRB members
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Santa Anita will foot the bill by itself for the remediation.

“We know that it’s our responsibility because it’s our race track,” he said. “So we’re determined that we will get it right.”

Said Haines: “We have a great deal invested in this and we are going to do the very best to get this as good as we can get it.”

Veteran trainer Bruce Headley, a strong proponent of dirt racing, has no doubt the track will be fine by the beginning of Santa Anita’s autumn meet scheduled to begin Sept. 28.

“I think Ted Malloy (racing surface consultant for Stronach) has made more tracks than anybody else and he will get this right,” Headley said.

He believes there is another problem that leads to many of the breakdowns.

“When the horses get hurt now, start showing signs of wear and tear, they (trainers) won’t give them a rest and the problems turn into bigger ones,” he said.

Another industry insider, who preferred to remain anonymous, had stronger words when asked why Santa Anita had so many fatalities earlier this year.

“Same ol’ (bleepin) thing,” he said. “Too much cortisone, too much painkiller and trainers that are too greedy and too desperate. I mean, how many of the same guys are breaking down the same horses?”

To be fair to Santa Anita, Del Mar had problems with its synthetic Polytrack surface during its 2009 season, when there were 12 fatalities during a 37-day meet.

Del Mar turned it around last summer, when there were only five fatalities despite a rash of complaints from trainers about the track’s consistency.

Said Del Mar CEO Joe Harper on closing day last summer: “This track, during the offseason we added fiber and once we figured out how to mix it, it was a much more forgiving race track, and I think it showed statistically.”

Del Mar, of course, is hoping to host a Breeders’ Cup sometime in the near future. Santa Anita, which became the first track to host back-to-back Cups in 2008-09, is on the verge of landing another one.

Santa Anita, Belmont Park and Churchill Downs are finalists to host the 2012 Breeders’ Cup, a decision that most likely will come in the next 30 days.

“We have made a very aggressive bid for the 2012 Breeders’ Cup where we’ve made some very strong financial commitments,” Avioli said. “We feel pretty good about our chances and think that would be a very good thing for California racing.”

Indeed.

But problems still persist, problems that not even Zenyatta’s amazing victory in the 2009 Breeders’ Cup Classic could solve.

WHAT’S YOUR TAKE?

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