04/13/2012 3:17PM

Santa Anita adds sand, seeking slower, safer main track

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ARCADIA, Calif. – Sand has been added to Santa Anita’s clay-and-sand main track in recent weeks, a procedure welcomed by some horsemen who say the racing surface is slower and safer than it was earlier this year.

The California Horse Racing Board has yet to release fatality statistics for this year’s meet, which began Dec. 26 and ends April 22, so it is not clear whether there have been fewer main-track casualties compared to last season. But some horsemen say adding sand has made the track safer.

Santa Anita’s clay-and-sand track has been the subject of periodic maintenance since it was installed to replace a synthetic track in late 2010. Last summer, for example, the surface underwent significant changes to reduce clay content and add sand.

Santa Anita is the only major Southern California track with a dirt surface. Del Mar has a Polytrack synthetic surface, while Hollywood Park has a Cushion Track synthetic surface. Santa Anita installed a synthetic track in 2007 and removed it in 2010 after it repeatedly failed to drain during rainstorms.

Santa Anita president George Haines said Wednesday that sand will be added to the racetrack when deemed necessary to restore a proper balance between clay and sand.

“We will add material like we did last week,” Haines said. “I think the track has been good lately. We’ve been dodging in and out of the rain and had to change maintenance plans.”

Later, he described the new sand as “a more durable material” than what had been added in the past.

Haines said he thought the surface had become more fair in recent weeks after a speed bias dominated the early weeks of the meeting,

“The times are coming back,” he said. “It’s not playing as fast as it was early in the meeting.”

The slower track seems to have translated into a safer surface.

Although official figures are not available for the current meet because of a new policy initiated by the California Horse Racing Board, Haines said there have been fewer fatal breakdowns in the last month than there were earlier at the meeting.

“I think we had a rough start, but the last few months have been good,” he said.

At the 2010-11 winter-spring meeting, there were 18 fatalities during racing – 12 on the main track and six on turf. The figures were published by the California Horse Racing Board through the annual report on its website, reflecting the fiscal year that ended on June 30, 2011. The 2010-11 winter-spring meeting was the only one held at Santa Anita during that fiscal year.

In March, the racing board altered its policy on releasing information related to fatal breakdowns upon request, citing the need for a review at the conclusion of each meeting. A racing board spokesman said the information on the current meeting would be published in an annual report in February 2013.

At the time the new policy was announced, the racing board said in a statement that a year-end review of fatal breakdowns allows for a more thorough report on the causes of injuries.

“The CHRB is committed to the transparency demonstrated by its comprehensive fatality reporting and intends to continue ensuring the accuracy of its fatality information that is presented to the public in the annual report,” the statement said. “It is the policy of the CHRB not to release fatality data prior to its publication in the annual report.”

The number of main-track fatalities during racing at this meeting is believed to be nine, according to one source. There have been an unknown number of fatal injuries during training.

Some trainers say the track has shown improvement in recent weeks.

“Personally, we haven’t had any significant issues with the track,” trainer Darrell Vienna said. “I’ve heard some report of people that have had problems.

“I think the track is a work in progress. There have been modifications during the meeting. I think it’s trending in the right direction. They have been adding a different kind of sand.

“It isn’t perfect. I think it’s slowing down a bit.”

Trainer Jack Carava, also based at Santa Anita, said the track is at its best when the weather is dry.

“I’ve had a good meeting, but I’ve heard some complaints,” Carava said.

“A lot of it depends on the last time it was sealed. It’s a good track when we’ve had fair weather.”

Dr. Rick Arthur, the racing board’s equine medical director, declined to discuss the specific number of racing fatalities at the meeting. He emphasized that post-mortem examinations are conducted on all horses that are euthanized.

“It’s going to be generally similar to last year,” he said of the data.

“There are variations, and there always are. They are relatively rare events, and they have a tendency to spike up at different times.

“We’re doing a much more and in-depth analysis of fatalities. We know more about this racetrack than we do any racetrack in the world. I hope it will improve safety.”

Haines said that the track’s composition will be closely watched in coming months, but that no major renovation plans are scheduled. Santa Anita hosts the Breeders’ Cup races this fall, on Nov. 2-3.

“We’re going to continue regular additions of sand as part of our maintenance plan,” he said. “You’re losing it constantly because of erosion and horses carrying it off the track,” he said.

Kenneth Porteous More than 1 year ago
Zenyatta would never have set hoof on this track.
Chantal Smithless More than 1 year ago
Maybe all of this controversy is another reason Jerry Moss stepped down as a member of the CHRB? Yeah, we all know what the reasons were he gave but....... Seems to me that (as said in an earlier post) this inability to get the track surface "right" has been going on way too long. Certainly does tarnish Santa Anita's image which is SUCH a shame!
bgenmafia More than 1 year ago
The lives of the horses is what the real issue is and the CHRB should be on trial here here for gross neglect and mismanagement of the system. Board members are elected by status on competence. The list of equine deaths both on and off the track should be published weekly. This would help publicly monitor the trainer/ owners who exploit unsound horses. Horses were made to live a long time. Nashua was still siring into the late 1970's. Now the life of a horse is much shorter. So sad. Let's hold these idiots responsible. We supply the handle these jokers make money from!!
bgenmafia More than 1 year ago
should read: elected by status NOT competence
chad mc rory More than 1 year ago
Sand? More durable sand? Horses carry the sand away? Sounds like the Repub's Prez Campaign... 8 flat is as fast as a racehorse should run.
chad mc rory More than 1 year ago
Seven and change is blazing. Red Cross ran 20 and two, 43 and 8 flat more than just once at Monmouth Park, a safe surface. If you showed up and beat her then you had the fastest horse in the Country that day. This tells me that 8 flat is AS FAST as a racehorse should run. Have good drainage - a good base - get a good track Supt. and the cushion should be no problem. Seven and change should be a rare, rare event. Hopping a racing surface for a big Stake needs to stop. Suck it up and buy some sand. Horses carry it off? Puh-leez.
Tom Smith More than 1 year ago
Santa Anita is the worst track to bet on in the country. Blame Frank Stronach And all the trainers and fans that had to have a dirt track.
Goldhybrid More than 1 year ago
No wonder the California horses don't fire in the triple crown races. They get to Kentucky and then they have to run in deeper sand and wet tracks. It's an adjustment that can't be made in a few workouts. It's totally unrealistic. And the Santa Anita dirt is unrealistic too, as phony as the polytrack that took so much blame.
Jordan More than 1 year ago
The track started slowing about mid-meet. But still, by slowing we're talking about real cheap horses going in 1:10 instead of 1:09, and solid horses going 1:08 and 4 instead of 1:08. Just this last Saturday, medium level claimers went 6 furlongs in 1:07 and change and out 6.5 furlongs in 1:14 and 1. Still way too fast. I would like to see a dirt surface in which the lowest level horses run 6 furlongs in 1:13-1:14, low claimers 1:12, allowance horses 1:10, stakes horses 1:09, and elite sprinters 1:08 and change. Anything in the 1:07 range should be for the absolute freaks.
RunningDog More than 1 year ago
How hard can it be, geez, this has been going on now for two years. Last year a was a total joke, this year despite all the talk started out exactly the same way. When mediocre horses have to run 1:09 to win and 1:07 and change is not a big deal something is wrong. When horses cant win who come from 5 lengths off the pace something is wrong. How about dumping a so much sand on the track that only a good horse can break 1:11 and quit playing games with the public and endangering horses lives.
chad mc rory More than 1 year ago
Add a good Track Supt. and you got something going.
zvi More than 1 year ago
Stop blaming the truck surface and look at irresponsible trainers /owners that runs sore horses!! z.k
ECarlos727 More than 1 year ago
Don't blame the truck!!!
Jerry Gryczewski More than 1 year ago
lol can't we leave the truck out of this