09/28/2008 11:00PM

Extra harrowing does trick, jocks say


ARCADIA, Calif. - Santa Anita officials adjusted the maintenance program of its Pro-Ride main track over the weekend, drawing positive comments from two jockeys and from one trainer who has been a vocal critic of synthetic surfaces.

The track increased the number of times the surface is being harrowed after some jockeys said last week that the top was loose.

Ian Pearse, the founder of Pro-Ride, and Santa Anita's track superintendent, Richard Tedesco, said on Sunday that the surface will be harrowed up to three times a day, especially during hot conditions. The temperature rose to the mid-90s at times during the first week of the Oak Tree at Santa Anita meeting that began last Wednesday.

Leading jockey Garrett Gomez, who had complained about the surface, said Sunday that weather and track conditions had improved.

"It was a little cooler and it seemed a little better" on Saturday, Gomez said. "Hopefully as it cools down, it will get a little tighter. Some horses are not getting a hold of it too well.

"It's safe. It's got a good cushion to it. They have to make sure its right for the Breeders' Cup. They're willing to work with us. The main thing is it's safe."

Jockey Jose Valdivia said the track was not as loose over the weekend as it was in the first days of the meeting, but thought that it does favor some horses.

"Horses that are near the lead have an advantage," he said. "Horses that are behind, it's loose for them."

Trainer Bob Baffert, a longtime critic of synthetic tracks, spoke favorably of the surface on Sunday.

"I think it's good, but I like dirt better," he said. "They're getting a better handle on it. Not all the horses are going to like it.

"It's better than it was at the end of the meeting last year. I like it right now. It's holding up pretty good. If I don't like it, I wouldn't run my good horses on it."

Ed Halpern, the executive director of the California Thoroughbred Trainers, said he has received little negative feedback over the surface from trainers in the last week. "I'm usually the first to hear complaints, and I haven't heard one," Halpern said.

Santa Anita's president, Ron Charles, said that track officials are "happy" with the racetrack despite the hot conditions.

On Friday, the track was harrowed after training and once during the program. Saturday, the track was harrowed after training and twice during an 11-race program that included six Grade 1 races. Sunday, the track was harrowed three times - once after training and after the third and seventh races on a 10-race program. Dirt tracks are harrowed between each race.

Tedesco said that the maintenance plan "is not in concrete. We might do it different. We'll reassess.

"We want to stay off it as much as we can."

The track has received minimal maintenance and has not been watered since it was installed in late summer. Pearse said the more frequent harrowing is a reflection of the climate.

"When the weather cools we can go back to grooming it once a day," he said.

Pearse and Tedesco said there is no plan to begin a watering program. Pearse said the surface is designed for water to drain through the track and not be retained within the 15 inches of material.

The condition of the track is being watched by horsemen nationwide. The Oak Tree meeting is hosting the Breeders' Cup meeting on Oct. 24-25, the first time the event has been held on a synthetic track.

Track officials are hoping to draw owners and trainers from other circuits to the Breeders' Cup and attract additional horses for the winter meeting. Santa Anita has struggled to maintain its synthetic track in the last year. A Cushion Track surface installed in the summer of 2007 failed to drain properly last winter, resulting in the cancellation of 11 days of racing.

The track played fast through the weekend. Saturday, a six-furlong optional claimer was run in 1:07.80, while a 2-year-old maiden race over 6 1/2 furlongs was run in 1:15.37.

There have been four horses euthanized as a result of injuries suffered during racing or training at Santa Anita since Sept. 20, two on Sunday. But trainers said the injuries do not appear related to the new track surface,.

On Sunday morning, the unraced 2-year-old Attitac was euthanized after suffering a pastern injury. Attitac was nearing his career debut for trainer Dan McFarlane. In Sunday's third race, Gem Proof, a $35,000 claimer, was euthanized after suffering a suspensory injury, according to his trainer, Mike Mitchell.

"It was one of those things that happened," Mitchell said of the injury. "I'm not going to blame the racetrack. So far, the track has been good."

He's Invincible was euthanized Sept. 23 after suffering a sesamoid injury while training. Trainer Mark Glatt said he believed the incident was unrelated to the surface. On Saturday, the John Sadler-trained Tizsweetdreams was euthanized after a workout injury.