By Ray Paulick
On an afternoon when heavy rains forced Santa Anita Park management to cancel a special holiday program, track president Ron Charles said the all-weather surface currently in place will be removed at the end of the 2009-'10 and strongly hinted the Arcadia, Calif., racetrack would return to dirt for its main track surface.
Santa Anita and the other major California tracks were required by the California Horse Racing Board to install synthetic surfaces by Jan. 1, 2008, but horseplayers and many trainers have been critical of the various synthetic tracks ever since. Charles, during an interview on Steve Byk's “At the Races” radio show Monday afternoon, said the synthetic tracks did not deliver as promised by their manufacturers. Santa Anita Park joined Hollywood Park in installing Cushion Track prior to the 2008 deadline and experienced almost immediate problems with the track's ability to drain and lost several days of racing after rains hit Southern California. Santa Anita replaced the Cushion Track with material from another manufacturer, Pro-Ride, and sued the owners of Cushion Track. When that new surface was installed in time for the 2008 Breeders' Cup, Charles indicated it would be a short-term solution. Santa Anita began experiencing further drainage problems again last fall.
Del Mar has gone with Polytrack, which is part owned by Keeneland and in place at Keeneland, Turfway Park, Arlington Park and Woodbine.The Bay Area's Golden Gate Fields, like Santa Anita owned by bankrupt Magna Entertainment, installed Tapeta Footings, which is also installed at Presque Isle Downs in Pennsylvania and at the new Meydan racetrack in Dubai, which is scheduled for its grand opening in the next couple of weeks.
Charles did not confirm the Pro-Ride surface would be replaced with dirt,, though said a decision will soon be announced and that it would be supported by a majority of the trainers and jockeys he has spoken with. Charles said the synthetic tracks were installed with good intentions–to reduce injuries and make racing safer, especially during wet weather–but became an extremely polarizing issue in racing. The synthetic tracks were cited by Rachel Alexandra's principal owner, Jess Jackson, as the reason his star filly did not compete in ther 2009 Breeders' Cup at Santa Anita.
Then come back to the Paulick Report and let us know what you think about synthetic tracks and the possibility of Santa Anita returning to dirt for its main surface.
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