01/18/2010 12:00AM

Santa Anita considers a return to dirt


ARCADIA, Calif. - Santa Anita canceled Monday's racing program, citing the synthetic track's inability to drain properly after a day of rain, and track officials acknowledged for the first time that they are considering a return to a dirt track later this year.

"There have been discussions knowing we're going to have to replace this racetrack after this meet," track president Ron Charles said. "The options are out there to return to dirt."

In the most likely scenario, Santa Anita could replace its Pro-Ride track this summer, when the track is closed for renovation during the Del Mar meeting in late July and August.

California Horse Racing Board chairman Keith Brackpool said Monday that the racing board "would be open" to replacing a synthetic track with a dirt track. Under chairman Richard Shapiro, the racing board in 2006 mandated that California's Thoroughbred tracks install synthetic surfaces. Golden Gate Fields, Del Mar, and Hollywood Park also have synthetic tracks.

Regardless of whether the track installs a dirt track, a massive renovation will be needed to improve drainage, Charles said.

"What happened is frustrating," Charles said of Monday's cancellation. "It clearly won't drain.

"We know there is more rain coming. We can't put anybody at risk. As frustrating as it is, as much work as we did, it's so disappointing."

Santa Anita has had drainage trouble with its synthetic track since the original Cushion Track was installed in August 2007. Eleven days of racing were canceled in the winter of 2007-08 because the surface did not drain properly. That led officials to overhaul the surface with Pro-Ride synthetic material in February 2008 and more extensively in the summer of 2008.

No racing days were lost during the 2008-09 meeting, but as recently as last month, two days of training were canceled after about 3 inches of rain fell.

The installation of synthetic surfaces in California has divided trainers and owners. Last year, Jess Jackson said he would not run Rachel Alexandra in the Breeders' Cup because he did not want to race her over a synthetic surface.

Monday may not be the only day of racing lost this week. Santa Anita was to be dark on Tuesday and Wednesday, with racing scheduled to resume Thursday. But a series of predicted rainstorms through the week could jeopardize Thursday's seven-race program.

Approximately 1 1/2 inches of rain fell from mid-afternoon on Sunday until lunchtime Monday, leaving Santa Anita's Pro-Ride main track saturated, with standing water visible.

Officials and a group of jockeys walked the final turn of the track at 11:30 a.m. Monday. Jockeys said the surface was uneven.

Jockey Joe Talamo said the surface had soft spots in places from the three-eighths pole to the quarter pole. "If you didn't watch it, it was slippery," Talamo said. "There were soft spots."

Charles said no decision had been made on whether to race Thursday.

"We'll see how much work the track gets and give everyone an earlier answer if we'll have trouble on Thursday," Charles said. "I think what we need to do is see what happens after" Monday night.

The $150,000 San Marcos Stakes was among the races canceled on Monday and has been rescheduled for Sunday.