11/30/2010 12:13PM

Santa Anita's dirt track will open Monday for training

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Santa Anita’s newly installed dirt track is scheduled to open for training Monday, the completion of a project that ends a troubled three-year period with synthetic racing surfaces at the historic track.

By opening the main track Monday, and the barn area Sunday, Southern California horsemen will have less than three weeks to acclimate their horses to the new surface in advance of the opening of the winter-spring meeting on Dec. 26. Santa Anita will have the only dirt track at the three major Southern California venues. Hollywood Park has a Cushion Track synthetic surface, while Del Mar has a Polytrack surface.

Installed over the last six weeks, Santa Anita’s new surface consists of 90 percent sand, using two types of sand, and 10 percent clay.

Because most horses are making a transition from synthetic surfaces, Santa Anita officials are urging horsemen to take a slow approach to introducing their runners to the new track.

“We’re asking them to give it some time to jog their horses and let horses get comfortable with it,” track president George Haines said. “It’s important to get open three weeks before opening day, so we can make any adjustments, if necessary.”

Earlier this fall, Haines said the new racetrack installation cost more than “$3 million.” Richard Tedesco, who has maintained Santa Anita’s track in recent years, will oversee maintenance of the new track, Haines said.

The track was designed by Ted Malloy, with frequent input from horsemen’s groups.

“We get horsemen every day looking at it,” Haines said. “We had a transparent process.”

Haines said Santa Anita’s maintenance crew was scheduled to begin grooming the track Wednesday and will work the surface for five days before Monday’s opening.

The timeline for installation has been largely met, despite a few weather-related delays in recent weeks, Haines said.

“We had a couple of hiccups but we were able to keep the schedule,” he said.

Santa Anita track chairman Frank Stronach committed to the installation of a dirt surface during the summer at the urging of horsemen’s groups. After the existing Pro-Ride synthetic track was removed in October, the base of the new track was installed in mid-November. In the last week, the installation of the upper layer of the surface was completed.

The base and upper layers of the surface will have a depth of 15 to 17 inches.

Santa Anita’s three-year era with synthetic tracks was plagued by maintenance problems and poor drainage. The track lost 11 days of racing during the 2007-08 meeting, the first with a synthetic surface, and five days of racing earlier this year because of poor drainage.