02/04/2008 1:00AM

Santa Anita begins push to fix Cushion Track


ARCADIA, Calif. - The rain stopped, and the Caterpillars came out on Monday at Santa Anita. On a cold but gloriously clear morning, heavy equipment was being used to dry out the track and make the entire circumference level on the first day of what Santa Anita management is hoping will be the final push toward fixing its Cushion Track surface.

This week's project, expected to last at least through Thursday, will ultimately involve mixing fibers and polymer binders from the synthetic surface company Pro-Ride into the main track, which management believes will allow the track to drain properly. Improper drainage forced Sunday's card to be canceled that morning, and racing this week on Monday and Thursday was canceled last week in anticipation of this week's renovation. Tuesday and Wednesday are dark days.

If racing resumes on Friday, Santa Anita will have lost 10 of its first 32 scheduled days of racing this meet. But there is no guarantee racing will resume by Friday. Entries for Friday were scheduled to be taken on Monday morning, but that was postponed until Tuesday, when track officials could better gauge whether racing on Friday is feasible.

Regardless, track officials expect racing to resume no later than Saturday, which would be exactly one week after the most recent card. Whenever racing does resume, there will be a pick-six carryover of $181,514 awaiting, since no one hit the pick six on Saturday. This coming Saturday's card will have two Grade 1 races, the Las Virgenes Stakes for 3-year-old fillies and the Santa Maria Handicap for older females. In addition, the Grade 2 San Antonio Handicap for older horses, which was rained out on Sunday, will be brought back on Saturday.

The first order of business on Monday morning, according to Richard Tedesco, the track superintendent at Santa Anita, was drying out wet spots on the track, and making the track level all the way around. Most of the heavy equipment on Monday morning was attacking the area from near the five-sixteenths pole to the quarter pole. One giant Cat would scrape moistened material, and another would come along and scoop it up.

"We're trying to balance out the turn with the rest of the racetrack," said Tedesco, who estimated that 12 to 13 inches of rain fell at Santa Anita during January.

Tedesco is working in concert with Ian Pearse, the founder of Pro-Ride. Both men were in the seven-furlong chute first thing Monday morning.

"We're trying to get it to dry out," Tedesco said.

Tedesco said he hoped to get that area of the track dry enough to begin applying the Pro-Ride material in the chute later Monday, then move onto the rest of the track over the next few days.

Although it was cold early on Monday, clear skies brought plenty of sunshine, which was expected to help dry the track. The forecast from Weather.com was for similar conditions at least through the weekend, with high temperatures ranging from 63 to 75 degrees.

According to Pearse, the binders would be spread from a tanker truck; there were six tanker trucks in the backstretch parking lot on Monday morning. The binders would be mixed into the surface using power harrows, Pearse said. After that, synthetic fibers are mixed in.

While the main track is closed, horses will be confined to the infield training track in the mornings.

Ron Charles, the president of Santa Anita, said the track will ask California Horse Racing Board officials for additional racing dates in February to make up for the recent cancellations.

"What we're trying to do is get back to a normal schedule with additional racing dates," he said. "The horsemen are anxious to race. Within the next 10 days, we'll be applying for the number of dates we'd like to add."

Charles said that Wednesdays are likely to be added to the final weeks of the meeting in March and April, and that races could be added to weekday programs. The meeting ends on April 20.

Santa Anita will be open for simulcast wagering on Wednesday and Thursday.

- additional reporting by Steve Andersen