05/20/2010 11:00PM

Santa Anita checking out dirt


ARCADIA, Calif. -- The transitory label of "interim" Santa Anita president will be stabilized in the next six weeks, when the board of directors of MI Developments names George Haines the formal successor to Ron Charles, Haines said on Friday.

Charles resigned early this week as Santa Anita president, after which track owner MID named Haines interim president. Haines said Friday that his track-president role will be certified after procedural formalities are addressed by the MID board.

Haines is a former general manager of Santa Anita, and one of his first challenges will be a decision on whether to keep or remove Santa Anita's artificial track surface. Haines acknowledged that the issue of track surface is moving toward resolution.

A track surface committee, including representatives from Santa Anita and the California Thoroughbred Trainers, has inspected dirt surfaces in Argentina and will be traveling to Spain for further investigation next month.

Haines expects the committee to return with a recommendation that will be reviewed by MID chairman Frank Stronach. Asked if the current Pro-Ride surface will be replaced, Haines said, "Eventually, yes." He added that, "we are up against it now" in terms of time. Haines expects the current surface to remain through fall.

"I wouldn't think we would be able to do anything this summer, and we could go through next year with it," Haines said, referring to the winter meet.

Stronach said in February that he was reluctant to invest in a new surface, but he has reconsidered. "The door is open" for replacing the surface," Haines said, adding that Stronach will make the final decision. "Would he commit? I am sure he probably would, if the circumstances were right. We are working closely with the horsemen and the [California Thoroughbred Trainers]."

Among the other challenges facing Haines will be updating the track's business model and increasing purses and field size.

Haines on Friday outlined several issues in broad terms: "Naturally, a big focus is our horse population, and what we can do to get purses up, and bring field size back."

Haines said that MID would reveal specific plans later this summer. "There are things we are working on that I really cannot discuss, but ways to enhance our business model," he said. "We've got this great facility; what can we do better?"

Haines declined to comment on the controversial MID decision to terminate its lease with the Oak Tree Racing Association, which conducts an annual race meet each fall at Santa Anita.