As The Stronach Group continues to contemplate changes to improve safety at the embattled Santa Anita Park, officials there say they haven't completely ruled out a switch back to synthetic.
At a safety and security press briefing held Wednesday morning, Stronach Group chief veterinary officer Dr. Dionne Benson took a question from gathered media about whether a switch back to synthetic was a possibility.
“As far as Santa Anita Park is concerned, we haven't ruled anything out,” said Benson. “Nothing is off the table, including the potential to bring synthetic back.”
Dr. Rick Arthur, equine medical director for the California Horse Racing Board, confirmed that when the track had synthetic last time, it was because it had to comply with a CHRB order mandating the change by 2007. If the track wants to make the switch however, he said the governing body's approval is not required.
Santa Anita tested out synthetic surfaces about a decade ago, only to abandon the $40 million experiment by 2010 after difficulties with surface engineering and complaints from bettors and horsemen. Arthur said he thinks there is a different attitude amongst horsemen now with regards to new safety protocols, thanks largely to the events of the past year.
“Unfortunately, the track was taken out back when it was removed because there were people who were unhappy with the track in spite of the rather remarkable [fatality] numbers,” said Arthur. “I actually see a major cultural change in the horseman community this last year. I think all issues are on the table. The changes we have instituted this year, we've talked about them for years and weren't able to get them done, and horsemen have actually backed us up in terms of supporting the changes we've made.”
Dr. Mick Peterson, noted racing surfaces expert, was also at the event and said a switch back to synthetic would require time and study to get it right.
“The big challenge when you're talking about synthetics is they're largely insensitive to moisture,” said Peterson. “It's a huge undertaking to put in a synthetic surface. One of the things we've been experimenting with and testing leading up to this Breeders' Cup is real time moisture measurement to address some of the variability we have on dirt surfaces. Eventually we will adapt this to the turf surfaces as well.”
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