05/12/2006 12:00AM

Senate passes surface legislation


The California Senate on Thursday passed a bill that would require each of California's five major Thoroughbred racetracks to install a synthetic surface by the end of 2007. The bill, sponsored by Republican Jeff Denham, passed by a vote of 31-4 and has been forwarded to the Assembly.

The legislation affects the five tracks that run four or more weeks of Thoroughbred racing per year: Bay Meadows, Del Mar, Golden Gate Fields, Hollywood Park, and Santa Anita. According to the legislation, they must install a synthetic surface by the end of 2007 to receive a license for racing dates from the California Horse Racing Board.

In February the board issued a motion stating that each track must have a synthetic surface by the end of 2007 to receive dates.

None of the tracks currently has a synthetic surface, though Del Mar and Hollywood Park are actively exploring installation. Hollywood officials have said they hope to have a synthetic surface in place by the start of the track's fall meeting in November. Del Mar officials are aiming for a synthetic surface to be ready for its meeting in July 2007.

Back in February when the board issued its motion, the president of Hollywood Park and Bay Meadows, Jack Liebau, said he wished the board would "go a little slower." On Thursday, some executives voiced concern that further study is needed on synthetic surfaces before a deadline can be applied.

"Owners want the best surface for horses and riders," said Drew Couto, the president of the Thoroughbred Owners of California. "We're pretty impressed with synthetic surfaces. We don't want to be boxed in an unrealistic way. We definitely want to see legislation that's in the best interest of racing."

Santa Anita's president, Ron Charles, said there is concern about how synthetic surfaces would do in the warm weather Santa Anita experiences during the summer and early fall. "There does seem to be concern about its effect when temperatures are in the high 90's or 100 for several days," he said. "We're trying to determine what is the best synthetic surface."

Some officials have expressed concern about the respiratory effects for jockeys of inhaling the materials in a synthetic surface.

"We have a toxicologist reviewing that right now," Couto said.

Currently, Turfway Park is the only track in North America to race on a synthetic surface. Woodbine in Toronto is scheduled to install a synthetic surface this summer and Keeneland will change over to a synthetic surface for its fall meet.