Updated on 08/16/2010 8:49PM

Specialist will study safety of Santa Anita's Pro-Ride surface


The California Horse Racing Board has hired noted racetrack specialist Mick Peterson to conduct an urgent study on the safety of Santa Anita's Pro-Ride synthetic surface as the start of the Oak Tree at Santa Anita meeting draws closer Sept. 29.

Peterson was scheduled to begin the study Tuesday along with racing board executive director Kirk Breed and issue his findings in coming days, according to racing board chairman Keith Brackpool.

A license for the Oak Tree at Santa Anita meeting is scheduled to be issued by the racing board at its monthly meeting in Del Mar on Aug. 19. By then, Brackpool said there will "definitely" be a resolution to the safety issues.

Last month, Santa Anita announced it would conduct a renovation of the Pro-Ride surface, focusing most of the work on an area near the finish line that failed to drain properly last winter during periods of significant rain. Santa Anita lost five days of racing during the winter-spring meeting because of insufficient drainage.

Last Friday, officials with the California Thoroughbred Trainers and Thoroughbred Owners of California met with Santa Anita officials to discuss the renovation. 

A mesh sheeting that separates the Pro-Ride material from a layer of gravel at the bottom of the surface has been punctured in some places, allowing gravel to rise to the upper layers of the surface, according to two people familiar with the renovation, who asked not to be named because there has been no official announcement yet about details of the renovation.

Through a spokesman, Santa Anita officials declined to comment on the renovation Friday. Oak Tree executive vice-president Sherwood Chillingworth said Monday that he was awaiting Peterson’s report.

“We’ll do what we have to do to get through this season,” he said. “It will take a lot of compromise to get things done.”

Brackpool said that Peterson's study will focus on whether the course can be renovated in time for the Oak Tree meeting or for the Santa Anita winter-spring meeting, which begins in December.

"The only issue is safety, safety, safety and that's what we can mandate," Brackpool said. "I think the facts will tell us how much work needs to be done. I need some facts, not opinion."

Peterson, a professor of engineering at the University of Maine, is under contract with the racing board to train personnel on racetrack safety, according to a statement released by the board. His contract has been amended to include an evaluation of the Santa Anita track, the statement said.

If the surface cannot be repaired in coming weeks, there is a possibility Oak Tree's meeting could be relocated to Hollywood Park, though TOC president Arnold Zetcher stopped short of endorsing that plan Sunday.

"We want to wait and see how the study goes and try to put it all together," Zetcher said. "I think it's too early to say anything other than we have some experts going up there. We'll see what they next step is."

Hollywood Park president Jack Liebau said Friday that he has not held discussions with Oak Tree officials in recent days about running the 2010 meeting at the Inglewood, Calif., track.