10/03/2016 10:36AM

Positive reviews for Santa Anita's new turf course


ARCADIA, Calif. – The newly installed turf course at Santa Anita was met with praise from several prominent riders after the first weekend of the track’s autumn meeting, even though some expressed concern about the amount of water applied to the course after Friday’s opening-day program.

The course, a Bermuda-Bandera blend, was installed in June, replacing a surface that showed significant wear and tear in the preceding year. The new course was used for 11 races from Friday through Sunday – four races each on Friday and Saturday and three on Sunday.

There are two turf races scheduled for each card Thursday and Friday. The Breeders’ Cup races will be run at Santa Anita on Nov. 4-5.

Jockeys Victor Espinoza, Mike Smith, and Gary Stevens spoke in favor of the condition of the course but said the course was overwatered after Friday’s program.

Smith won a maiden race at 1 1/8 miles on turf Sunday aboard Exhale. He described the course as “wonderful,” with a “beautiful bounce.” Smith said he was more satisfied with the course’s condition on Sunday than Saturday.

“They put a lot of water on it, and it was very wet,” he said. “It’s in good shape, much better than yesterday. They glide on it.”

Espinoza said the course was “better” on Sunday but “not as good as opening day.” He said runners “were digging into it” on Saturday.

Stevens said he was hopeful the track would use the course conservatively through October as the Breeders’ Cup approaches.

“I hope they don’t overuse it,” he said on Sunday morning. “It tends to take its toll. I’m not trying to be negative. Opening day, it was perfect ground. Yesterday, it was wet. It was still good.”

Kent Desormeaux described the course as a “carpet.” He said the watering was beneficial after the course produced quick times on Friday.

“It needed to soften up,” he said. “We start off with a wet track, but by the end of the day, it’s dry as a bone. It’s beautiful.”

Track senior vice president Joe Morris said maintenance crews will make adjustments regarding watering as the season progresses.

“We’ll work with that,” he said.

Overall, he said the course will be used extensively during the meeting.

“We’re not going to baby it,” he said. “It’s going to be a good course.”

Rick Hammerle, vice president of racing, said inside rail settings will be altered frequently to provide the freshest ground possible. There are four positions available – the permanent position and temporary settings 10, 20, and 30 feet from the inside.

For Thursday and Friday’s programs, the temporary rails will be 20 or 30 feet from the inside position. Hammerle said the inside position will be used for “one or two more days” this week and will not be used again after Monday’s program until the Breeders’ Cup races.

“We can move the rail every day,” he said. “We want it to be as perfect as we can be. We need the roots to grow. We think it will get stronger and stronger.”

Attendance, handle rise

Saturday’s 11-race program, which included five Grade 1 races, had strong business compared with the corresponding day in 2015.

Saturday’s attendance was 18,563, up from 13,537 last year, according to data released to the public. All-sources handle, including ontrack, offtrack, and account wagering, was $18,143,423, compared with $13,602,188 last year.

The presence of California Chrome, who won the Awesome Again Stakes, helped Saturday’s program. The weather played a role. The temperature was 97 degrees in 2015 but 88 degrees on Saturday.