08/06/2010 9:46PM

More woes for main track at Santa Anita

Barbara D. Livingston
A worker tends to the Pro-Ride surface at Santa Anita.

Representatives of Santa Anita and the California Thoroughbred Trainers met with other racing officials at Santa Anita on Friday to discuss the ongoing renovation of the track’s Pro-Ride synthetic surface, which has been the subject of increased concern for horsemen in recent weeks and a potential problem for the Oak Tree meeting that begins on Sept. 29.

Last month, Santa Anita announced it would renovate the Pro-Ride surface, focusing on an area near the finish line that failed to drain properly last winter during periods of significant rain. Santa Anita lost five days of racing during the winter-spring meeting because of insufficient drainage.

According to two people familiar with the renovation, who asked not to be named because there has been no official announcement yet about details of the renovation, a mesh sheeting that separates the Pro-Ride material from a layer of gravel at the bottom of the surface has been punctured in some places, allowing gravel to rise ito the upper layers of the surface.

Darrell Vienna, the Southern California vice president of the trainers group, attended Friday’s meeting. He declined to discuss specifics but described the meeting as productive. "I think some good ideas were discussed," he said. "In the next days, we’ll be rehashing what was discussed today.

“People are concerned about Santa Anita. We want the best surface we can have for our horses.”

Santa Anita officials declined to comment through a spokesman, directing inquiries to Oak Tree officials, who did not return phone calls as of early Friday evening Pacific time.

Arnold Zetcher, the president of the Thoroughbred Owners of California was traveling from Saratoga to California on Friday and did not attend the meeting. He said later Friday afternoon that he had been in discussions with people in attendance.

“I think the bottom line is that we are uncomfortable with what we saw,” he said. “We have to take a look and see if they will have surface ready for the Oak Tree meeting.”

“The concern is always the safety. Because of the work they have been doing there, there have been some questions. We thought the best way to send a group of experts and others to look at it. We will have meetings in the next several days.

“This was the first important step to see where we are.”

The Oak Tree meeting runs from Sept. 29 to Oct. 31. Earlier this year, Magna International, the parent company of Santa Anita, voided a lease with the Oak Tree Racing Association after the bankruptcy of Santa Anita’s previous parent company, Magna Entertainment. Magna International is chaired by prominent horse owner Frank Stronach, who also chaired Magna Entertainment.

Oak Tree held discussions with Hollywood Park and Del Mar about relocating the 2010 meeting to those tracks but opted to stay at Santa Anita after an agreement between Oak Tree and Magna International was reached in June for a one-year extension to the lease.

Asked if there was talk among officials of the trainers group about asking Oak Tree to move the meeting to Hollywood Park just weeks before its scheduled start, Vienna said, “I can’t comment on that. We’ll have to wait a few days and see what happens.”

Hollywood Park president Jack Liebau said on Friday that he has not held discussions with Oak Tree officials in recent days about running the 2010 meeting at Hollywood, which is in the Inglewood section of Los Angeles, across town from Santa Anita, in Arcadia.

Santa Anita installed a Cushion Track brand synthetic surface in 2007 and replaced it in the summer of 2008 with Pro-Ride material after 11 days of racing were lost during the 2007-08 meeting because of insufficient drainage.

No racing days were lost during the 2008-09 meeting, but drainage problems resurfaced earlier this year.

At a California Horse Racing Board meeting in June, Stronach said that Santa Anita would not change its Pro-Ride synthetic main track until next spring at the earliest. He identified as a possible replacement a silica sand-based material used at equestrian centers in Europe and said that the new surface would be installed at Magna International’s Palm Meadows training center in Florida this fall, where it could be scrutinized by trainers and jockeys when the training center is operational next winter. Synthetic surfaces are typically a mixture of synthetic fibers, sand, and other material.