06/10/2011 12:43PM

Santa Anita to adjust composition of main track

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Santa Anita will refurbish its main track this summer to reduce the clay content and add sand, a project that could begin in the next week in a test plot in the seven-furlong chute, pending ongoing discussions between the racetrack and the California Horse Racing Board.

Track president George Haines said Friday that conversations with the racing board are focusing on the details for the renovation, which would be done on a portion of the track not required for daily training.

Last month, the racing board completed a study of the surface, recommending several changes, including taking steps to ensure that the levels of sand, silt, and clay are closer to the original composition proposed last fall before the surface was installed and used for the first time in December, at the winter-spring meeting that concluded in April.

One major step in the renovation, the racing board recommended, would be the removal of the top 2 inches of material. It would be replaced with sand, which would be blended into the rest of the surface.

In addition, the racing board’s study expressed concern about the depth of the track, recommending that the cushion, or top layer, be 3.75 inches in depth. Tests conducted during the meeting pegged the depth at levels ranging from 2 to 4.25 inches. The report states that alternations were made during the winter-spring meeting to ensure the cushion was closer to the recommended 3.75 inches, which prevented horses from reaching the harder “pad” section of the track below the cushion.

The study concluded that Santa Anita’s sand-and-clay track never had the intended mix of sand, clay, and silt during the recently concluded race meeting. The racing board’s study endorsed Santa Anita’s plan to conduct experiments on remixing the surface in the seven-furlong chute, suggesting several steps, including studying the composition of the existing top 5 inches of material, regrading the surface, removing the top 2 to 2.5 inches of the newly mixed surface, and, finally, adding new sand.

The overall surface has a depth of 15 to 17 inches, including a 6-inch base of fine rock dust and another 10 inches of surface material that consists of the firmer pad and cushion.

Haines said Friday that Santa Anita hopes to finalize plans for the initial stages of the renovation by early next week.

“We would remove material from the surface, and we would add clean sand back on and mix it in,” he said.

Following that process, tests would be conducted to determine the blend of sand, clay, and silt, he said.

The track was designed to consist of 87.5 percent sand, 8 percent silt, and 4.5 percent clay. Various studies conducted during the race meeting revealed that the sand content ranged from 76.8 percent to 79.2 percent, silt content was as high as 15.8 percent and as low as 13.1 percent, and that clay content ranged from 6 percent to 8.7 percent.

The track sustained 15 inches of rain in late December and early January, which the study cites as a contributing reason for the percentages of material differing from the intended figures. In late January, the track announced that 300 to 500 tons of sand would be added to the track, which was expected to add a quarter-inch of sand to the surface. Later in the meeting, there were frequent incidents of sand being added to the track after the last race via a spreader.

Haines said the planned renovation also is designed to increase safety. During the race meeting, there were 19 fatalities on the main track in racing and training, according to racing board statistics, although three of those deaths can be attributed to odd circumstances – a horse tripping over a fallen horse, a case of sudden death, and a horse who suffered fatal injuries from a collision.

During the 2009-10 season, the last of the three years in which Santa Anita raced on a synthetic track, there were two fatalities during racing. The number of training fatalities that season was not available.

By comparison, there were 22 racing and training fatalities during the 2006-07 meeting, the last before a synthetic track was installed. One of those 22 deaths occurred when a horse was injured while returning to be unsaddled.

“We are very concerned with every injury at the track,” Haines said Friday. “We will do whatever we have to do to make sure the track is safe and consistent.”

For the upcoming renovation, the amount of time needed to complete study on the test plot is unclear, Haines said. He said the racing board and the California Thoroughbred Trainers would be consulted during the renovation.

“When we get it the way we want, we can do the racetrack,” he said.

Santa Anita’s next racing season, the Santa Anita Autumn Meeting, will start in late September. The track is scheduled to be open for training through the summer, while racing is being conducted at Del Mar from late July to early September.

Haines said Santa Anita could remain open for the bulk of the period but could close “for a number of days” to conduct the renovation of the main track.

“We’re ready to go in very short order,” he said. “We have the equipment and materials. In the test plot, we’d have the luxury of testing our process as we go. The thing is to mix the material thoroughly with different types of mixers. We wouldn’t want to rush it. We’d want to get it right and carry that to the main track.”