12/23/2010 1:33PM

Santa Anita surface weathers the storm

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Santa Anita Park
The Santa Anita main track reopened for training on Thursday morning, after four days of heavy rain.

ARCADIA, Calif. – Just 24 hours after being pounded by heavy rain for the fourth straight day, Santa Anita’s new dirt main track was open for training Thursday on a partly cloudy yet blessedly dry morning, and was in such good shape that several prominent trainers, most notably Bob Baffert, worked their horses on it in a strong show of confidence.

Baffert’s workers included stakes runners Alcindor, Always a Princess, and Indian Firewater, and the highly regarded 2-year-old colt The Factor, all of whom were entered for Sunday’s opening-day card. Also working was Smiling Tiger, who is entered in the opening-day Malibu Stakes for trainer Jeff Bonde. The track was rated good.

“This track is 10 times better than what we had,” Baffert said, referring to Santa Anita’s previous synthetic surface, which was recently replaced with a natural surface after three years.

Only 23 horses worked Thursday, but there were gallopers aplenty on the main track, which was remarkably dry with the exception of the inside 12 feet of track. That portion was purposely kept off limits, with orange cones, known as dogs, protecting it. There were a few washouts very close to the inside rail, and while they could have been fixed had there been racing Thursday afternoon, track superintendent Richard Tedesco had the luxury of waiting. Opening day is the priority around here.

“Considering the circumstances, we’re very happy,” George Haines, the president of Santa Anita, said during training hours at Clocker’s Corner on Thursday. “The track came back quick. We’ll have more confidence as we go on. It’s a baby track, just been in for two weeks, and we haven’t seen rain like that in years. A lot of thought went into the track. We’ve just got to keep it going now.”

Praise for the surface was universal Thursday, even from trainers who would not have minded Santa Anita remaining a synthetic surface.

“These guys did an unbelievable job,” trainer Howard Zucker, a synthetic booster, told Haines.

Gary Stute worked a couple of his horses, and two for his father, Mel, who is vacationing in Ireland.

“I loved the old dirt track, and I love this one,” Stute said. “In the old days, you never had six inches of rain in a day like we had yesterday. The track looks good.”