01/20/2010 12:00AM

Rain continues to vex Santa Anita schedule


ARCADIA, Calif. - A week of storms that led to the cancellation of racing on Monday and Thursday at Santa Anita is jeopardizing the prospects for an eight-race program on Friday.

On Wednesday morning, track officials canceled Thursday's seven-race program and said a decision will be made on Thursday morning regarding the prospects of racing on Friday.

"It depends on when the storm lets up," the track's president, Ron Charles, said.

Rainstorms began on Sunday, forcing the cancellation of Monday's races. The track sustained 3 1/2 inches of rain from Sunday until Wednesday morning, according to the track superintendent, Richard Tedesco. Some forecasts predicted that an additional six to eight inches would fall before the last of the storms ended on Friday.

"We're really at the mercy of the weatherman, who is predicting this to be one of the most severe storms we've had in five years," Charles said. "We're confident that shortly after it stops we can race again."

Limited training was conducted on Tuesday on the main track, but there was no main track training on Wednesday. Track maintenance crews spent most of the morning aerating the track with a device pulled by a tractor that punctured holes in the Pro-Ride brand synthetic surface. The aeration was designed to improve drainage and had some success, Charles said.

"It's difficult to be overly optimistic when you're hearing that six to eight inches of rain is coming," Charles said. "The new program of aerating is one that we're hopeful will help. We do believe it might greatly help the drainage."

Racing is also scheduled for Saturday and Sunday, followed by a two-day break of normal dark days on Monday and Tuesday. Forecasts called for a 100 percent chance of rain on Wednesday and Thursday and 60 percent on Friday. No rain was forecast for the weekend.

Tedesco said Wednesday that he is most concerned about a 30-yard by 10-yard area on the outside part of the track just past the finish line that was draining more slowly than other areas. Tedesco said extensive renovations would be needed in that area to promote drainage before racing could resume.

By late morning on Wednesday, standing water was visible in that area, and in the outer half of the racetrack from the eighth pole to the sixteenth pole.

Santa Anita has had drainage trouble at times with its synthetic track since such a surface was installed in August 2007. The original Cushion Track surface installed in 2007 failed to drain properly, leading to the cancellation of 11 days of racing in the winter of 2007-08. The poor drainage led officials to overhaul the surface with Pro-Ride synthetic material in February 2008 and more extensively in the summer of 2008.

No racing days were lost during the 2008-09 meeting.

Mixed reaction to talk of dirt

The ongoing drainage problem led Charles to say on Monday that Santa Anita will replace this surface later this year, possibly returning to a conventional dirt surface.

Such a move was met with mixed reactions by horsemen who braved intermittent showers on Wednesday morning to watch horses jog and gallop on the training track.

Trainer Rafael Becerra said he would support a move back to dirt.

"I think that's what we're looking for," he said. "I hope they make the right decision and get the right [kind]."

Trainer Clifford Sise, a synthetic-track critic, said that "95 percent of the people would be willing to have dirt back."

Asked if a week of wet weather would discourage him from training on a sealed, and presumably quite firm, main track, Sise said, "It's something we did for years."

His opinion about dirt tracks was not universally shared. Trainers Ben Cecil and Eoin Harty said they would be reluctant to give up on synthetic-track racing at Santa Anita.

"There have definitely been less catastrophic injuries on this track," Cecil said. "The rest of the world has synthetic tracks. We forget with the dirt tracks how bad it was."

Harty described a move to a conventional track as "a step back. My horses in general have been much sounder since we went to synthetics."

Meanwhile, all of the stables are trying to cope with the disruption in training. Jorge Gutierrez, who has a 54-horse stable, watched his horses exercise on the training track. He said he supports a move back to dirt in the long-term. In the short-term, he was concerned about how several days without full training on the main track would affect his stable.

"If it's going to be three or four days, I don't think it will set us back," he said. "How safe is this [main] track going to be to train on in three days? If it's longer it will be different and you can lose some time."