08/17/2010 10:51PM

Time for Stronach to step up for bettors


Frank Stronach, chairman of Magna International Developments, the company that owns Santa Anita, is scheduled to speak before the California racing community Wednesday at Del Mar.

Stronach will speak about his plan for the “health and future of California horse racing.”

Handicappers hope Stronach also addresses the issue of racetrack surfaces.

Handicappers hope Stronach will announce plans to replace the beleaguered synthetic surface at Santa Anita with a conventional dirt surface.

After more than three years of experimentation, California synthetic surfaces have fallen short of the mark. Horses still get injured. Maintenance issues continue to confound. The surface at Santa Anita does not even drain in wet weather.

Horsemen are frustrated.

Handicappers are exasperated.

The surfaces change. Bias one day, no bias the next. It goes back and forth.

Pace does not matter, except sometimes when it does matter. And pace almost never matters around two turns.

Speed used to be a good thing. Speed is blunted on synthetics. Got a fast horse? Then ship to Saratoga.

California horseplayers have had enough experimentation.

It is time for Stronach to do the right thing, and in at least one small way, lead California back to respectability.

Wednesday at Del Mar, it is time for Stronach to announce that the synthetic surface at Santa Anita will be replaced with a conventional dirt surface.

That is all horseplayers want to hear.

Jon More than 1 year ago
I think it's too general to say that "horseplayers are exasperated." East Coast and dirt horseplayers might be exasperated because they think they can handicap the same way without learning anything new and then blame their losses on the surface. There are a lot of smart California handicappers who do very well at Santa Anita and the rest of the synthetic tracks out here.
David More than 1 year ago
Brad, you make a weak case to tear down the Santa Anita synthetic track and replace it with dirt. If you can find a handicapper that has better percentages than picking the favorites, at any track, dirt or synthetic, that would be useful information. Saratoga’s dirt racetrack is not any easier to handicap. Bias-free tracks do not exist. The synthetic tracks are one of the few recent major efforts to improve safety for the horse and jockey. The return to a dirt track at Santa Anita will be like going back to the dark ages. Most countries offer racing not on the dirt track. They offer it on turf and increasingly on the synthetic track. The Meydan Racecourse, site of the $5 million Dubai World Cup, is now offered on a state-of-the-art synthetic surface. Your comments no doubt reflect the view of many at the DRF and other East Coast-based media outlets. The mainly East Coast-based writers have been wagering their own campaign against the synthetics. They also have a lopsided number of Eclipse votes. Last year they voted along regional lines, propping Rachel Alexandra, their dirt-track poster girl, as Horse of the Year, in part, to keep the dirt tracks at the front of the line. They have no problem with running the Kentucky Derby or the Breeders' Cup in the slop but are quick to whine about the synthetic tracks, whose main focus are the horse and the rider, not the handicapper or the individual owner. They offer no alternatives to make safer the dirt tracks. Eliminating the synthetic track at Santa Anita is premature. Earlier this year the Breeders' Cup organizers were going to make Santa Anita the permanent Breeders' Cup site. But Magna cancelled Oak Tree’s lease, at that time giving no reason. (If you can’t persuade or win on the merits, create chaos). The organizers went on to select other tracks, to the detriment of local horseracing fans and the businesses that would have benefitted. They are using the synthetic track excuse, again, another disrupting move to kick out Oak Tree. Eight Belles, (Kentucky Derby), Barbaro (Kentucky Derby), George Washington (Breeders' Cup Classic in the slop at Monmouth), the highest profile deaths have been on the dirt tracks. It may help some betters and appease a few from the old guard, but it is unlikely that going back to the dirt will do anything to improve the quality of racing or increase attendance at Santa Anita. The proposed Santa Anita flip-flop requires Oak Tree to run its season at Hollywood Park. Santa Anita’s loss is Hollywood Park’s gain. With its Cushion Track, Hollywood Park appears to have among the safest tracks in the country. Oak Tree can help make Hollywood Park a permanent alternative to Santa Anita. With the local economy in a downturn, perhaps the developer (the same one that tore down Bay Meadows) will sell back Hollywood Park to Oak Tree or a related party interested in keeping the track open. With the two racetracks, one synthetic and the other dirt, long-term hard evidence can be obtained to validate the safety of each track. The California Horse Racing Board can step in and help identify other resources from both the private and public sectors to ensure that Hollywood Park continues to offer quality racing that has as a priority the well-being of both horse and jockey.
Del More than 1 year ago
Just wanted to say David made several great points that support the world class status of synthetic. The high profile breakdowns are an excellent point. The possibility you mention, of Hollywood selling back to Oak Tree, would be fantastic. I'm from Minnesota and I like to play California's synthetic tracks. For me, it's a high quality BRAND of racing. The power that governs the requirements concerning works, is to be commended. I've stated in other posts that the hand works you find in California racing is unmatched in the U.S. And like you implied, turf would be fine. But the maintainence challenge makes it impractical for constant, heavy use.
Goldhybrid More than 1 year ago
Is it forbidden to mention that Stronach races his horses at Woodbine? He is said to be Canadian so it would seem reasonable he would race there. But Woodbine is synthetic, no? Do you see the contradiction?
csk More than 1 year ago
Glad to see the love for synthetics here in the comments. A few big ego blowhards defend dirt - which is mostly horribly boring - go for the lead, get the lead, win. I love Saratoga, but not the dirt track, which acts just like the Inner Dirt Track at the Big A - boring Just like half-mile harness racing. Woodbine is one of the most bettable tracks in North America - it has a great turf track and big fields on Polytrack. Poly doesn't seem to hurt Keeneland either. Del Mar's racing on all weather is just fine, as is Hollywood. Yes, horses still break down. But synthetics have emerged as a viable third surface. Not to mention Meydan. I wonder what the real expert, Michael Dickinson has to say on this? Enough with blowhards who only know wagering. How about we increase the weights jocks carry too so they can live normal lives while we are at it...
Qev More than 1 year ago
While reading a U.K. racing blog regarding the recent 100-1 winner of the Group 1 5f Nunthorpe stakes, a blogger questioned how a horse could come from an All-Weather track (Dundalk) and win a Group1 race on the grass. Another blogger commented that All-Weather racing in Ireland was of “fairly high standard” compared to AW racing in the U.K. and also mentioned that 2009 BC Marathon winner, Man of Iron, also came from the same track. This stirred my interest to checkout this Dundalk. Upon doing so, what really caught my eye was their description of a Polytrack course. Here are excerpts from the About The Track heading: ‘…supplies the same characteristics as the root structure in good turf…’; ‘The Polytrack surface, which has the same characteristics as turf…’; Although Polytrack can be manipulated to reflect Good to Soft, Good or Good to Firm ground… This brings up the question; why would any American racetrack want to rip out its maintrack and replace it with an artificial turf course…right next to the real one?
Paul Eddmanson More than 1 year ago
Santa Anita was the safest meet in California in years. Going back to dirt is a mistake.
Goldhybrid More than 1 year ago
I love synthetic. It's the closest thing to grass, which is the ultimate surface. With dirt, there is no puzzle - speed is speed. Top trainers do well on synthetic because they have brains. With dirt, a horse can get a good start out of the gate and practically have the race won. Any trainer can win on dirt. On synthetic, only the best can win. With synthetic, California has the best racing in the world. Look at the foreign horses that are imported here. Classy horses from Britain, France, the Southern Hemisphere. As far as handle, you're going to see a drop, not an increase. Think you'll have the pick-six carryovers when dirt is installed? I don't think so. Compare California carryovers to those in the East. California had something special with synthetic tracks. And what about rainy days. Do you like handicapping slop and mud? Most people don't. You can still have a decent day of racing on wet synthetic. What do you think happens to the handle when dirt gets wet?
Goldhybrid More than 1 year ago
Like I was saying, handle will go down because Santa Anita will no longer be unique as one of the few synthetic tracks. It will now be one of scores of dirt track alternatives. Why would someone in the midwest or eastern time zones wait to play Santa Anita when there are so many choices tracks to play at a more convenient time?
taxman More than 1 year ago
Thanks to Stronach for finally waking up and getting "The Great Race Place" back to dirt. Bettors will come back to Santa Anita now that we can at least have a fair chance at a real surface. Santa Anita used to be my favorite track, now I will be back with money in hand.
edgred More than 1 year ago
Yipee, we can now go back to bucked shins and slab fractures instead of stress fractures of the tibeas. It's all the same, 4 months off.