01/14/2008 1:00AM

Demonstration gives hope surface can be fixed


ARCADIA, Calif. - As Santa Anita methodically works toward a solution that will allow its Cushion Track surface to drain, tests using polymers developed by the Australian company Pro-Ride have shown promising results, and dazzled a group of trainers and owners at a meeting on Sunday morning at the track.

According to trainer Ray Bell, who attended the meeting as a representative of the California Thoroughbred Trainers, two plots of Cushion Track were used in a demonstration by Ian Pearse, the founder of Pro-Ride. One plot consisted of Cushion Track as currently constituted. The other was Cushion Track after being treated with Pro-Ride's polymers.

Bell said Pearse poured a bottle of water onto both plots.

"The Cushion Track turned to oatmeal," Bell said. "When he poured the bottle of water on the other, it ran right through it."

Santa Anita has yet to make a decision on how to get through the current meeting, which closes April 20. Because of recent dry weather, Santa Anita has been able to race on Cushion Track for the past week. The concern is what will happen when it rains again. Cushion Track did not drain properly during a rainstorm earlier this month, which forced the cancellation of racing for three days.

Santa Anita has considered moving some of its dates to Hollywood Park, or replacing Cushion Track with a dirt or sand surface. But, according to Santa Anita officials and several trainers, leaving Cushion Track in and mixing in the Pro-Ride polymers has emerged as the most likely option following tests using the Pro-Ride polymers conducted by the civil engineering department at the University of Southern California.

Sunday's demonstration apparently won over the trainers in attendance, as well as representatives of the Thoroughbred Owners of California, who also attended the meeting.

If the Pro-Ride polymers are seen as the solution to the problem, the entire racing surface at Santa Anita would need to be treated. Several officials at Santa Anita said that process would take approximately four days. In one scenario under consideration, Santa Anita would be dark on what would have been a regularly scheduled Monday of racing, take Tuesday and Wednesday off as scheduled, then have a full day of turf racing on Thursday before racing resumes on the reconstituted Cushion Track on Friday.

The week under consideration begins Monday, Jan. 28, Santa Anita officials said, which is the week after Sunshine Millions.

Santa Anita installed Cushion Track last summer following a 2006 mandate from the California Horse Racing Board that all major Thoroughbred tracks in the state install a synthetic surface by the end of 2007. Because of Santa Anita's problems with Cushion Track, the racing board has scheduled an emergency meeting for Thursday, at which an amendment will be considered that would remove the synthetic track requirement from Santa Anita's license application.

Last week, the racing board, in another emergency meeting, gave Santa Anita permission to move some or all of its racing dates across town to Hollywood Park.

Santa Anita president Ron Charles has stressed that these waivers are available to Santa Anita as possible options, not as an indication of what the track may do.

Last week, Charles told a group of trainers that the most likely scenario was removing Cushion Track and going with a dirt surface through April 20. But that changed after Pearse's arrival on Thursday morning, and the subsequent progress made by Pearse in concert with the civil engineers at USC.

Pro-Ride was one of the four synthetic surface finalists under consideration by Santa Anita last year before the track decided to go with Cushion Track, which had received largely positive reviews following its installation at Hollywood Park.

Cushion Track is a mixture of sand, rubber, and natural and synthetic fibers, all coated in wax. The mixture at Santa Anita differs from that at Hollywood Park. Officials of Cushion Track have admitted that the sand and wax used at Santa Anita was "a mistake," and led to the problems with drainage.