10/06/2010 12:49PM

Santa Anita plans four-day weeks in January, February


Santa Anita is tentatively scheduled to run four days a week in January and February of 2011, one fewer day per week than in 2010, track president George Haines said Tuesday.

The track’s application for a 76-day winter-spring meeting from Dec. 26 to April 17 will be presented to the California Horse Racing Board at its next meeting Nov. 9.

Haines said the move to a four-day week - Thursdays to Sundays - comes after a “study of the horse population” in Southern California. The number of horses based in Southern California has dropped to a current level of approximately 2,800, a loss of more than 1,000 horses in recent years.

In March and April of 2011, Haines said that Santa Anita will conduct racing five days per week, on the traditional Wednesday-through-Sunday basis.

“We’re still finalizing our plans,” Haines said.

He said the reduction in racing days “should make the quality better on the weekends.”

The track will have two five-day weeks on the weeks of Jan. 17 and Feb. 21 to host racing on the Mondays that are national holidays. During the Christmas and New Year’s holidays, the track will run Dec. 26-27, have no racing on Dec. 28 and then run from Wednesday, Dec. 29 through Sunday, Jan. 2.

At the 2009-10 winter-spring meeting, Santa Anita ran 78 days of racing after canceling five days of racing because of poor drainage on the Pro-Ride synthetic track. The surface is being replaced by a conventional dirt surface this fall.

The removal of the synthetic track will begin Monday, Haines said. He said Santa Anita is within a week of announcing the sort of dirt that will be used on the new surface.

“We’re still finalizing what we’ll use as the surface material,” he said.

Haines said the sand component of the new surface will be “river-bottom sand,” which is preferred by horsemen to manufactured sand for its kinder nature during wet conditions.

“We’re working with the horsemen, and they are part of this process,” Haines said.

The proposed material is likely to come from California and will undergo tests at the universities of Maine and California-Davis to see how the material handles stress from mechanical hooves. Haines describes the studies as “composition, compaction, and cohesion testing” of the surface.

The track has yet to receive a waiver from the racing board to install a dirt track. The racing board in 2007 issued a mandate for all major tracks in the state to install synthetic tracks, but in recent months the board has been supportive of Santa Anita’s transition to a dirt track.

The material will be installed on the track this fall, with horses expected to begin training on the surface in early December.