09/02/2008 11:00PM

New surface draws early praise


ARCADIA, Calif. - At 8 a.m. Wednesday, trainer Clifford Sise gave Santa Anita's newly refurbished synthetic track the best endorsement he could offer. Sise worked the top horse in his stable, Idiot Proof, a leading candidate for the Breeders' Cup Sprint at Santa Anita on Oct. 25.

Working alone, Idiot Proof went five furlongs in 1:00.60 on a Pro-Ride surface that opened only last Saturday. Sise said he was impressed by the track.

"It's in good shape," Sise said. "He looked like he got over it. It's got some cushion. I think everyone will be happy with the track."

For Santa Anita, the stakes could not be higher. The track opens its Oak Tree meeting on Sept. 24 and is hosting the Breeders' Cup on Oct. 24-25. A favorable start to the Oak Tree meeting could lead owners and trainers from across the country to send horses to California this fall. Poor reviews could keep them away.

Jess Jackson, the owner of the reigning Horse of the Year, Curlin, the winner of the 2007 BC Classic, has expressed reluctance to race Curlin on a synthetic surface. At this point, Curlin is not certain to defend his title. Jackson is expected to travel to Santa Anita this week and inspect the track, according to one of his trainers, Richard Mandella.

Santa Anita's recent maintenance project was the third major overhaul of the surface since a Cushion Track synthetic surface was installed in August 2007. An inspection of the base was conducted last December after it failed to drain properly last fall. The problem intensified in January and February, leading to the cancellation of 11 racing days during the Santa Anita meet.

In February, elements of the Pro-Ride synthetic surface were added to the Cushion Track surface during a four-day renovation directed by Ian Pearse, the founder of Pro-Ride.

During that process, the sand that was hampering drainage was treated with fibers and polymer from the Pro-Ride surface. A more extensive renovation project began in mid-July and was completed in late August. More than 14,500 tons of sand was mixed with Pro-Ride polymer and fiber in Santa Anita's parking lot and then laid onto the racetrack.

The new surface has a depth of 13 to 15 inches and includes a nonporous membrane above the base, drainage pipes, two levels of gravel and rocks, a mesh membrane designed to keep rocks from floating to the surface, a two-inch blend of sand and grit and, finally, several inches of the Pro-Ride surface.

The new surface passed a drainage test conducted with sprinklers last month, according to the track's superintendent, Richard Tedesco. The surface will not face a genuine drainage test until the rainy season begins in late fall.

The surface received favorable reviews on Wednesday from the few trainers who had horses on the track.

"You don't see kickback," said A.C. Avila, who has 15 horses at Santa Anita. "It's very good so far. The horses are coming back in good shape."

Trainer Frank Monteleone said the surface was kinder than Del Mar's Polytrack surface, which he said caused a rash of bruised feet in his stable.

"This is much better than where they came from," he said.

There were approximately 300 horses at Santa Anita on Wednesday morning, according to track officials, and more will arrive as the Oak Tree meet nears. Del Mar does not close its barn area until Saturday, and there are many horses based at Hollywood Park. This week, Hollywood Park is renovating its Cushion Track synthetic surface, which will reopen for full training next week. Racing on the Southern California circuit is being conducted over the dirt track at Fairplex from Friday until Sept. 22.