01/07/2008 12:00AM

Santa Anita washed out again

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Benoit & Associates
Santa Anita's Cushion Track is flooded Sunday. The track's condition forced the cancellation of racing on Saturday, Sunday, and Monday.

ARCADIA, Calif. - Santa Anita management canceled racing for the third straight day Monday because of ongoing draining problems with its Cushion Track surface, but was hopeful of racing again on Thursday following scheduled dark days Tuesday and Wednesday.

Contingency plans, however, are being made, including the possibility of moving some dates to Hollywood Park, which has a Cushion Track surface that has performed better than Santa Anita's during the spate of wet weather that pummeled California in recent days. Toward that end, an emergency meeting of the California Horse Racing Board was scheduled for Tuesday to allow Santa Anita to amend its license application, which currently states that races would be held exclusively at Santa Anita through April 20.

"My understanding is we needed to do this procedurally, so we could move there if we decided we needed to," Ron Charles, Santa Anita's president and chief executive officer, said Monday.

The weather forecast is encouraging. Asked if he had confidence that the Santa Anita track would be able to handle future wet weather, though, Charles replied, "I don't have any confidence."

"The way the track is now is unacceptable," Charles said. "We will discuss somewhat in depth over the next several days what our plans are. We need to do something to make sure racing is not interrupted, and that we have a safe racetrack."

Richard Shapiro, chairman of the racing board, said he would sign the emergency measure to allow Santa Anita to potentially move dates to Hollywood.

"If the problem is something that cannot be corrected reasonably quickly, and if it is going to take weeks to get Santa Anita back in shape for racing, then I certainly as one individual commissioner would advocate that we as a Board adopt an emergency measure, so that we would be able to shift racing over to Hollywood Park until the Santa Anita track is once again suitable for racing," Shapiro said in a statement.

Santa Anita on Monday received a vote of confidence from Greg Avioli, the president and chief executive officer of the Breeders' Cup, which is scheduled to be held at Santa Anita on Oct. 24-25.

"Santa Anita has made a major commitment to the safety of racehorses and jockeys by installing this new surface, and we are confident that the track will be in championship form well before the Breeders' Cup in October," Avioli said.

The day-to-day situation, however, is quite fluid. Horses stabled at Santa Anita have been confined to training over the smaller infield training track - which has conventional dirt - for days. Only six horses worked on that surface Monday, when it was rated sloppy. By contrast, 117 horses worked at Hollywood Park on Monday, and another 89 worked there Sunday. Santa Anita is paying for trainers based there to ship horses to Hollywood Park for workouts, and many trainers with stalls at both tracks are shuttling runners across town for works.

Maintenance work was done on the Santa Anita main track prior to this meeting's opening on Dec. 26 in an attempt to solve the draining problem, and that caused the main track to be closed for nearly three weeks. As a result, horses have been able to train on the main track at Santa Anita only about two of the past six weeks.

Cushion Track is a mixture of sand, rubber, and fibers, all coated in wax. The Santa Anita Cushion Track uses a different type of sand and a more heat-resistant wax than the Cushion Track at Hollywood Park.

Hollywood's track, which was installed in the summer of 2006, has been "good, but not perfect" in recent days, trainer Ron Ellis said Monday.

"It's got some spots with water on it, but I thought it held up well considering how much rain we've had," Ellis said. "I'd say about 15 to 20 percent of the track is not draining well, but it's the very outside part of the track. Overall, it's held up pretty well."

Martin Panza, Hollywood Park's vice president of racing, on Monday said his track "could have run racing here any of the last three days."

"The only spot where the water pooled was on the outside rail near one of the clocker's stands, but that's a heavy-use spot where horses come on and off the track, and everyone gallops or canters by there and it gets a little chewed up," Panza said. "The track is 90 feet wide. The inner 75 feet, you could run races on it today."

Cushion Track was installed last summer at Santa Anita following a mandate in 2006 from the state racing board - whose members are appointed by the governor - that all major Thoroughbred tracks in the state replace their old dirt surfaces with a synthetic surface by the end of 2007.

One of the selling points of a synthetic surface like Cushion Track is that its unique blend of material, combined with an extensive system of pipes below the surface, would result in superior drainage, leaving the track dry even in inclement weather. Indeed, racing has continued at Golden Gate Fields in Northern California - which received more severe weather than Southern California - where racing is conducted on another synthetic surface, Tapeta.

Santa Anita's surface, however, has not drained properly, an issue that became critical when 7 1/2 inches of rain fell at the track from Thursday night through Monday morning.

"Let's not view this temporary cancellation of racing at Santa Anita as any sort of indictment of synthetic tracks in general," said John Harris, a prominent owner and breeder in the state and the vice chairman of the state racing board. "These tracks are being proven every day to be working and have kept a great many horses sounder than they would be without them. Northern California received far more rain than the south, yet the Tapeta track there is still getting excellent comments from horsemen and fans."

The decision to cancel Monday was made by Santa Anita management by 8 a.m. At noon Monday, the sun shone brightly at the track, with a few high clouds dancing off the San Gabriel Mountains north of the track. The main track was being worked on aggressively. A blower connected to a jet engine was mounted to the back of a jalopy that moved up and down the homestretch in an attempt to dry it out. Much of the material was scraped to the outer rail, similar to the maintenance done following a rainstorm on the old conventional surface. In addition, some new dry material was placed on the track at the top of the stretch.

Santa Anita's racing office has had to make several adjustments. The four stakes that were scheduled from last Saturday through Monday are to be brought back this week. The Grade 2 San Pasqual will be run Saturday, the Grade 3 Santa Ysabel will be run Sunday, and both the Paseana and the Grade 2 San Gorgonio have been rescheduled for next Monday, according to Rick Hammerle, Santa Anita's racing secretary.

In addition, the chute out of which six- and seven-furlong races are run will not be used Thursday. All sprints that day were rewritten for 5o1/2 furlongs, so they will start on the main track. Sprints are scheduled for out of the chute on Friday.

On Saturday, racing was called off at Santa Anita early in the morning. Sunday, racing was not cancelled until 11:20 a.m., after jockeys told track management the surface was uneven.

Even if racing had gone on Sunday, the card would have been decimated by scratches. Of the 83 horses entered for Sunday's card following early scratches on Saturday, 39 were scratched by 10:50 a.m. Sunday morning, leaving just 44 horses for the nine-race card.

Conventional dirt surfaces have not escaped unscathed during the recent wet weather. Los Alamitos, which has both Quarter Horse and Thoroughbred racing on a traditional dirt surface, canceled its final six races Sunday night.