12/27/2015 9:08PM

Jockeys give thumbs up to Santa Anita turf course

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ARCADIA, Calif. - Santa Anita’s refurbished turf course was well-received by jockeys on the opening weekend of the winter-spring meeting although some expressed concern how the course will respond to use in coming months.

The turf course underwent significant maintenance following the conclusion of the autumn meeting in late October. The course was cut to a low level, or scalped, and essentially re-grown in the weeks leading to the start of the winter-spring meeting on Saturday.

During the autumn meeting, the course was the subject of widespread concern for having an uneven surface and producing a higher number of divots than past meetings.

The course was used three times on Saturday and Sunday. Jockeys reported the surface was safe, but were concerned about kickback.

After Sunday’s fifth race, a sprint on the hillside turf course, jockey Tyler Baze showed a pair of his goggles which had a significant cover of sand and dirt

“It’s coming back pretty good,” said Baze, 33. “I like it. It has give. I wish the grass had more time for the roots to grow together and for the roots to be stronger.

“The bottom is good. That’s the important thing.”

After Saturday’s Grade 2 Mathis Brothers Mile, Hall of Fame jockey Gary Stevens said the course was “super.”  Stevens, 52, won the one-mile race with Om, the favorite.

“They did a tremendous job,” he said.

Sunday, Stevens described the course as “110 percent” better than it was in October.

Another Hall of Famer, Kent Desormeaux, 45, praised the course on Saturday.

“The track is in perfect condition,” he said. “It has cut in it. I don’t want to comment on the October track.”

Jockey Drayden Van Dyke, 21, expressed concern about kickback on Sunday, but said conditions were better than what he experienced in October.

“It seems like it’s getting chewed up, but it feels good,” Van Dyke said. “I worry how it will feel in two months. I think it’s fair. You see horses come from off it.

“It’s a tiny bit better. Everything is good at the start.”

Track officials plan an aggressive approach to maintaining the course through the conclusion of the 63-day winter-spring meeting on April 10. There is no racing at Santa Anita through the rest of April before the spring-summer meeting begins on May 5. The spring-summer meeting is tentatively scheduled to run through July 10.

The course is not being used as extensively as in past seasons. Santa Anita announced in mid-December that the track will not conduct turf workouts this winter. Turf workouts were typically held twice a week and were restricted to the outside lanes of the course.

Rick Hammerle, the track’s vice president in charge of racing, said on Sunday that a new temporary rail that will be used this year will allow greater flexibility in setting racing lanes. The turf rails were set at their normal position on Saturday and Sunday, but will have a temporary setting 20 feet from the inside on Wednesday and Thursday

“We’ll move the turf rails a lot more,” Hammerle said. “We can move it daily now.”

Hammerle said Southern California weather will play a pivotal role in how much the course will be used. An El Nino weather pattern is expected that can produce significant rainfall.

“We’ll keep a close eye on it with the rainy season,” Hammerle said.