09/24/2010 11:02AM

Santa Anita moving forward with dirt surface


The city of Arcadia granted Santa Anita construction permits on Thursday to start the conversion of its existing synthetic main track to a dirt surface this fall, track president George Haines told the California Horse Racing Board on Thursday.

After the racing board meeting, Haines said Santa Anita is close to a decision on what material will be used for the new track, having tested dirt samples from California, Mississippi, Tennessee and Argentina.

“My inclination is it will be locally sourced material,” he said.

Haines said Santa Anita is on schedule with the renovation process, which must be completed in time for the start for the winter-spring meeting on Dec. 26.

“Our target date is to have the track open on Dec. 5,” he said.

That would give horses three weeks to acclimate to the surface before the start of the meeting.

The removal of the existing Pro-Ride track is expected to start by mid-October, he said. The timeline for removing the synthetic track has been moved forward by approximately two weeks since Santa Anita is not hosting the Oak Tree autumn meeting this year. Oak Tree is running its meeting at Hollywood Park this fall, beginning on Thursday.

Last month, Frank Stronach, the chairman of Santa Anita’s parent company, MI Developments, said Santa Anita would replace its synthetic track after hearing widespread complaints from horsemen about the surface.

Stronach said last month that the installation of a dirt track will cost Santa Anita $5 to $6 million. A new dirt track at Santa Anita brings to an end a three-year period in which Santa Anita’s races were run on two synthetic surfaces and encountered trouble with drainage. Acting on a mandate by the racing board that all major tracks in the state must install a synthetic surface, Santa Anita installed a Cushion Track surface in the summer of 2007. But the material was plagued by drainage problems, leading to the cancellation of 11 racing days that meet.

Santa Anita installed a Pro-Ride surface in the summer of 2008, but it too had drainage problems earlier this year, forcing the cancellation of five racing days.

Also Thursday, Haines told the racing board that the track will replace two barns on the northwest part of the property, the first stage of what horsemen hope will be an extensive renovation of the track’s aging barn area.