08/06/2008 11:00PM

Santa Anita's latest overhaul under way

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Santa Anita's new synthetic main track will consist primarily of Pro-Ride when an ongoing renovation is completed later this month, according to track president Ron Charles. The Santa Anita track will be the first Pro-Ride brand surface used for racing in North America.

Santa Anita on Wednesday began mixing its new surface, which consists of 14,500 tons of sand, polymer, and fibers, in a temporary plant in the track parking lot.

The installation of that material on the main track is expected to be completed by Aug. 25 or 26, according to Charles. The Oak Tree at Santa Anita meeting, which begins Sept. 24, will host the Breeders' Cup on Oct. 24-25.

"We're on schedule," Charles said. "Everybody is extremely enthusiastic."

He said the new material will be "95 percent" Pro-Ride, which is manufactured by an Australian company. In early 2007, Pro-Ride was one of four companies that were finalists to install the initial synthetic track at Santa Anita. The racetrack installed a Cushion Track surface, but it has not drained sufficiently after rain.

The current renovation, under the direction of Pro-Ride founder Ian Pearse, is the third major overhaul of the main track in the last year.

Santa Anita began the renovation on July 14, removing the Cushion Track material and asphalt base installed last year. In recent weeks, Pearse has directed a seven-person maintenance crew from Australia as well as Santa Anita's maintenance crew in the reconstruction of the base and the installation of the multi-layered surface.

Pearse said the mixing procedure is directed by a computer that "regulates the output of each ingredient."

The new surface will have a depth of 13-15 inches and includes a non-porous membrane above the base, drainage pipes, two levels of gravel and rocks, a mesh membrane designed to keep rocks from floating to the surface, a two-inch blend of sand and grit and, finally, several inches of the Pro-Ride surface.

"Each of those layers of gravel have to be extremely clean for the drainage," Pearse said. "The cleaner, the fastest the drainage will be."

Pearse said that one difference between the new synthetic track and the old one will be smaller rubber pieces on the surface.

"We've taken out the large missile pieces and we've got most of the sizes within a specification," he said.

Charles said that a preliminary drainage test was conducted in the seven-eighths chute of the main track earlier this week, and was successful.

Santa Anita installed the Cushion Track in August 2007, and it was plagued with drainage problems through the fall. In December, the Cushion Track material was removed to wash the base, which at the time was considered the cause of the drainage problems.

The problems continued through early winter, leading to the cancellation of 11 days of racing in January and early February. Last February, elements of the Pro-Ride synthetic surface were added to the Cushion Track surface during a four-day renovation directed by Pearse to treat sand that was hampering drainage.

The surface experienced only minor problems through the end of the winter-spring meeting from early February to late April. But in May, the track failed to drain properly following a two-inch rainstorm, leading to the decision to rebuild the entire synthetic surface and drainage system this summer.

"The more we get into this, the more we see the many problems we didn't know - some of the drainage, some of the rock, and the major problem of the sand," Charles said. "The biggest difference is what Ian was asked to do in four days, he now has two weeks."

Santa Anita's barn area has been closed since mid-July. No date has been set for when horses will resume training, pending a likely meeting with trainers later this month, Charles said.

"We may schedule a meeting with them to go over what we're doing and the maintenance program, so they understand what they're coming back to," Charles said. "It's more of an education process for everyone to hear what's been done.

"A lot of people that raced on our surface the last seven or eight weeks thought it was a good surface," Charles said of reaction during the end of the winter-spring meeting. "This time, we'll be able to supply a surface improved from that. I think the surface will speak for itself."