01/07/2009 12:00AM

Santa Anita tweaks Pro-Ride maintenance


ARCADIA, Calif. - A revised maintenance program for the Pro-Ride racing surface is being introduced at Santa Anita, where winter elements and high traffic compacted the surface and might have been factors that contributed to an unusually high number of racing injuries the first week of the meet, said Pro-Ride founder Ian Pearse.

Pearse outlined the maintenance changes during an informal meeting with a group of concerned horsemen late Wednesday morning in the grandstand at the top of the stretch. More than 60 people, including at least three-dozen trainers, attended the meeting, in which some voiced worries over the perceived inconsistency of the surface.

"The density of the track changed when the rains came," Pearse said. "Our program now is going to be slightly different than it was in summer. We'll be implementing a winter maintenance program."

That program will include deep harrowing of the track more often than the current once a month.

"We might do it once every two weeks," Pearse said.

Pearse, track superintendent Richard Tedesco, and Santa Anita vice president and general manager George Haines spent much of Wednesday morning discussing the surface with horsemen.

"We listened to what the trainers said, and we are addressing their concerns," Haines said. "We want to make sure it's the safest track possible."

After three fatal breakdowns during the first five days of racing this meet, which began Dec. 26, there were no injuries in races Thursday through Sunday. But trainers who inspected the surface Saturday and Sunday after training hours said they were concerned the track had become uneven.

"There were holes and ridges; it was not an even distribution," trainer Darrell Vienna said. "My eyes and my feet tell me it's not a safe surface."

Australia-based Pearse inspected the surface Monday, after which the track was deep-harrowed.

"In colder conditions, horses will compact the track quicker than in summer," Pearse said. "Just as a precaution, we turned the track over to eliminate any risk of density increase."

Pearse said winter weather would shape maintenance procedure.

"It's about adopting maintenance programs to suit the environment that you're in," he said. "And around the world, with these types of tracks, no one has the usage rates that you guys have here."

Approximately 1,500 horses train or race daily on the Santa Anita main track.

Pearse expressed disappointment that synthetic tracks had been billed as maintenance-free.

"One of the unfortunate things that happened was that [early synthetic-surface manufacturers] told people it would be maintenance free," he said. "Nothing is maintenance-free."

While many horsemen at the Wednesday meeting remain opposed to synthetic surfaces, some spoke in favor of the them, including Dan Hendricks.

"I would never want to go back to the carnage we had with sealed [dirt] tracks," Hendricks said. "People have short memories. You're always going to have problems with athletes. This is better than the training on sealed tracks and dealing with the constant problems we used to have."