09/24/2008 12:00AM

Pro-Ride gets good early reviews


ARCADIA, Calif. - The latest version of Santa Anita's synthetic main track met with favorable reviews from jockeys Wednesday after they rode the first two races on opening day of the Oak Tree meeting.

The Pro-Ride synthetic track, which was installed during the summer, has been open for training since early September but hosted its first full day of racing on Wednesday.

In the first race, the 2-year-old filly Costa Marta ($3.40) ran 6 1/2 furlongs in 1:16.59, winning a race for maidens. Costa Marta, ridden by Rafael Bejarano, stalked pacesetter Heatology through early fractions of 22.27 and 45.34 seconds. Costa Marta pulled clear in the final furlong to win by 3 1/2 lengths.

"It's a little different," Bejarano said of the surface. "It's better than the last meeting. She was running to the end."

Alonso Quinonez, who rode third-place finisher Runway Starlet, said his filly handled the course well.

"I thought it would be faster," he said. "It felt very good. It was soft."

Heatology faded to finish fourth, losing by 8 1/2 lengths. Her jockey, Joe Talamo, thinks the course will play fair.

"They're getting over it," he said. "I don't think it will be a speed-favoring track like the big meeting here [last spring], or a come-from-behind track like Del Mar."

After the second race, jockey Danny Sorenson said the course felt similar to the way it felt during morning training.

"I'm happy with the way it feels in morning training," he said. "I'm optimistic, as everyone else is, that maybe this will work. It's the same every day."

In the second race, Benchmark Kid ran seven furlongs in 1:22.91 in a race for $14,000 to $16,000 claimers, but was disqualified and placed third for causing interference in the stretch.

Santa Anita installed a Cushion Track surface in August 2007. Cushion Track is a mixture of of sand, rubber, and natural and synthetic fibers, all coated in wax. But the course repeatedly failed to drain properly last fall and winter, and 11 days of racing were lost.

Last February, Ian Pearse, the founder of Pro-Ride, oversaw a four-day renovation to mix Pro-Ride materials into the Cushion Track surface in an effort to improve drainage. Unlike Cushion Track, Pro-Ride uses a polymer to bind the surface mixture. There were no additional cancelled days.

Pearse oversaw last summer's more elaborate project to mix more than 14,500 tons of sand from the main track with Pro-Ride polymer and fiber. The sand was removed from the main track, mixed with the Pro-Ride materials in Santa Anita's parking lot, and then redistributed onto the main track.