Updated on 09/17/2011 8:36PM

Rain renders track unfit for racing

Email
BENOIT PHOTO
Unrelenting rain forced Santa Anita Park to cancel racing Sunday after the first race for the first time in 10 years.

ARCADIA, Calif. - The relentless rain that has pummeled Santa Anita for two straight weeks caused the cancellation of Sunday's races following the running of the day's first race, in which the 4-year-old gelding Unusual Sunrise suffered a fatal breakdown on a sloppy surface.

Jockeys met with track management in the jockeys' room following the race, and all parties agreed it was best to not race the rest of the day.

"We mutually agreed with the riders to cancel the rest of the card," George Haines II, Santa Anita's vice president and general manager, said after emerging from the jockeys' room. "We expect the track to be fine by Wednesday."

It was not fine Sunday. Since the start of the meet Dec. 26, Santa Anita has been pelted by more than 16 inches of rain. Three inches fell from Saturday night until Sunday morning. According to Steve Wood, Santa Anita's track superintendent, Santa Anita's average rainfall for an entire meet is 14 inches. Wood and his crew have worked overtime trying to keep racing going under unprecedented conditions for this track, but their luck eventually ran out.

"They can only do so much. They've done a great job," said jockey Victor Espinoza, who rode in Sunday's first race. "I don't care how hard your crew works, you can only do so much. If we kept going, every race it would get worse and worse because you keep digging down.

"The track is not very good now. It's kind of uneven. It's not firm all the way around. In the stretch, it's good until the sixteenth pole, but then the horses don't want to keep going. There's big chunks and it's really uneven. It's also pretty bad from the half-mile to the three-eighths."

That is near the point where Unusual Sunrise was injured. A maiden, Unusual Sunrise was making his 15th start in Sunday's first, a one-mile race. He was in the process of making a move toward the leaders when he broke down and fell midway around the far turn. According to Willie Washington, the assistant to trainer Barry Abrams, Unusual Sunrise fractured sesamoid bones.

"I felt him slip. Then he planted his foot wrong. Poor thing," said Mike Smith, who rode Unusual Sunrise. "He just slipped. It's slick."

Smith had the wind knocked out of him and said he was body sore, but otherwise was fine.

Rene Douglas, who also rode in the first race, called the cancellation "a good decision."

"There will always be racing," he said. "There's just been too much rain, for almost two weeks. You've got to consider safety first."

The horses for the day's second race were in the paddock when the meeting was taking place in the jockeys' room. Trainers with horses in that race seemed resigned to the cancellation even before it was announced.

"Discretion may be the better part," said trainer Howard Zucker. "We always rely on the jocks in these situations. They have to think of themselves and the horses. When they go down, they go together."

Santa Anita was not scheduled to race again until Wednesday. The last time Santa Anita canceled racing because of weather was nearly 10 years to the day, on Jan. 8, 1995. That day, the card was stopped after the day's first race. But because of poor conditions, racing did not resume again until the following Friday.

The forecast for Southern California this week was for rain to continue into Tuesday, then an overdue respite.

"I've been here a lot of years," said Haines, who has worked at Santa Anita for more than 30 years, "and I've never seen anything like this."

Fans at Santa Anita on Sunday were given rain checks good for admission and a program to any day the rest of the meeting. Parking charges were refunded Sunday as fans left the track, according to Haines.

The cancellation of Sunday's races scrapped, at least temporarily, the two stakes races scheduled that afternoon, the San Miguel for 3-year-old sprinters, and the Santa Ysabel for 3-year-old fillies.

Both stakes races will be held at a later date, according to Vince Bruun, a track spokesman. As of Sunday, it had not been determined when, but usually in situations such as this, races are put back on within a week or so. Santa Anita has a three-day holiday weekend coming up, what with the Martin Luther King Jr. holiday on Monday.

Sweet Catomine, the Breeders' Cup Juvenile Fillies winner, was entered in the Santa Ysabel, but because of the sloppy track condition, she was scratched from the race on Sunday at noon, about a half-hour before the day's first race.