Archive for dirt track

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
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.”


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


Is Santa Anita’s Fast Track Costing Horses In The Long Run???

This week’s LET IT RIDE.COM HOT TOPIC comes from Brad Free of The Daily Racing Form…take a read and VOICE AN OPINION!

How Fast Is Too Fast?

Square Eddie is a good horse, and trainer Doug O’Neill was right. Despite not having started Square Eddie in more than one year, O’Neill said “He’s ready to win.”

He was more than ready, it turns out.

Square Eddie on Friday obliterated the Santa Anita track record for six and one-half furlongs, a record set more than 12 years ago by Son of a Pistol.

Square Eddie smashed it. He raced virtually gate to wire in 1:13.11, three-fifths off the old mark. He did it while geared down the final yards.

Records that are set by good horses can be a cause for celebration, and Square Eddie is a good horse. But he was racing in a second-level allowance race, not a graded stake.

And the way records are falling this winter at Santa Anita, celebration might give way to concern.

The Factor, a 2-year-old, set the new mark for six furlongs when he went in 1:06.98 on Dec. 26.

Twirling Candy, a good horse but not yet great, set the new mark for seven furlongs, 1:19.70 on Dec. 26.

That prompted one longtime Santa Anita employee to make this cynical remark: “It’s about time we got that bum Spectacular Bid out of the record book.”

Twirling Candy bruised a foot and has not raced since. Neither has The Factor.

Then the news broke Friday about Sidney’s Candy. He had raced a mile in 1:33.70, also on Dec. 26.

Sidney’s Candy is “off” and scratched from the Grade 2 San Fernando Stakes on Saturday. Preliminary indications are the setback was not serious.

Horses get hurt everywhere. No one is blaming the Santa Anita track.

But three track records the first 13 days of racing does seem strange.

Square Eddie, a Grade 1 winner in fall 2008, is a good horse.

Let’s hope he is good enough to run fast, and then run again.

Because when horses run as fast as they have been running this winter at Santa Anita, one has to ask again – at what expense?


Back To The Future: Santa Anita’s Dirt Returns

This week’s LET IT RIDE.COM HOT TOPIC comes from Steve Andersen of the Daily Racing Form…take a read and VOICE AN OPINION!


ARCADIA, CALIFORNIA – Santa Anita’s newly installed dirt track is scheduled to open for training Monday, the completion of a project that ends a troubled three-year period with synthetic racing surfaces at the historic track.

By opening the main track Monday, and the barn area Sunday, Southern California horsemen will have less than three weeks to acclimate their horses to the new surface in advance of the opening of the winter-spring meeting on Dec. 26. Santa Anita will have the only dirt track at the three major Southern California venues. Hollywood Park has a Cushion Track synthetic surface, while Del Mar has a Polytrack surface.

Installed over the last six weeks, Santa Anita’s new surface consists of 90 percent sand, using two types of sand, and 10 percent clay.

Because most horses are making a transition from synthetic surfaces, Santa Anita officials are urging horsemen to take a slow approach to introducing their runners to the new track.

“We’re asking them to give it some time to jog their horses and let horses get comfortable with it,” track president George Haines said. “It’s important to get open three weeks before opening day, so we can make any adjustments, if necessary.”

Earlier this fall, Haines said the new racetrack installation cost more than “$3 million.” Richard Tedesco, who has maintained Santa Anita’s track in recent years, will oversee maintenance of the new track, Haines said.

The track was designed by Ted Malloy, with frequent input from horsemen’s groups.

“We get horsemen every day looking at it,” Haines said. “We had a transparent process.”

Haines said Santa Anita’s maintenance crew was scheduled to begin grooming the track Wednesday and will work the surface for five days before Monday’s opening.

The timeline for installation has been largely met, despite a few weather-related delays in recent weeks, Haines said.

“We had a couple of hiccups but we were able to keep the schedule,” he said.

Santa Anita track chairman Frank Stronach committed to the installation of a dirt surface during the summer at the urging of horsemen’s groups. After the existing Pro-Ride synthetic track was removed in October, the base of the new track was installed in mid-November. In the last week, the installation of the upper layer of the surface was completed.

The base and upper layers of the surface will have a depth of 15 to 17 inches.

Santa Anita’s three-year era with synthetic tracks was plagued by maintenance problems and poor drainage. The track lost 11 days of racing during the 2007-08 meeting, the first with a synthetic surface, and five days of racing earlier this year because of poor drainage.


Does This Signal The End of Plastic Tracks?

This week’s LET IT RIDE.COM HOT TOPIC comes from Tracy Gantz of…take a read and VOICE AN OPINION!


ARCADIA, CALIFORNIA — Removal of Santa Anita’s synthetic surface began Oct. 11 as the first step in replacing it with a dirt surface. Track officials are close to deciding the mix of materials to be used as the surface material, with input from horsemen.

Plans call for installation of the dirt surface to be completed by about Dec. 1, said project manager Ted Malloy. Horses are expected to be allowed to begin training Dec. 5 for the Santa Anita winter meeting, which opens Dec. 26.

Malloy said the removal of the synthetic surface will take two to three weeks. Track management and horsemen are investigating several different dirt mixes to come up with the best and safest surface. Several plots of material are undergoing testing in the area just west of Santa Anita’s main oval.

Malloy and George Haines, Santa Anita’s president, said that the dirt surface will be made up of a sand component, clay and silt, and pond fines. The testing is examining several different mixes of these three materials.

Once Santa Anita management determines the best mix, it will undergo further testing under the direction of the California Horse Racing Board, Haines said. The University of California at Davis will test it, as will Dr. Mick Peterson from the University of Maine. Peterson is the executive director of the Racing Surfaces Testing Laboratory.

“We want to make sure we have the right parameters for the soil,” said Haines.

The CHRB still must approve a waiver for Santa Anita to return to a dirt surface. Originally, the CHRB mandated that all major California Thoroughbred tracks convert to a synthetic surface.

Santa Anita has undergone two renovations of its initial Cushion Track surface, installed in 2007. The track has not drained properly, leading to the loss of several days of racing. Santa Anita owner Frank Stronach in August announced he would replace the synthetic surface with dirt in time for the 2010-11 winter meeting.