08/16/2010 12:56PM

Stronach to speak of his plan for California racing

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Frank Stronach, the chairman of Santa Anita’s parent company Magna International Development, has called a meeting with Southern California horsemen on Wednesday evening to discuss his plans for the future of California racing.

The meeting will be held at the Surfside off-track betting building, adjacent to Del Mar racetrack, and is on the eve of a racing board meeting in which the license is scheduled to be issued for the Oak Tree at Santa Anita meeting in the fall.

According to a flyer distributed on the Del Mar backstretch over the weekend, Stronach will present “a proposed framework for the health and future of California horse racing.” Stronach has made no secret about his desire for more racing dates at Golden Gate Fields in Northern California and at Santa Anita, the two California tracks owned by Magna International.

In June, Stronach spoke before the racing board, calling for massive deregulation of the sport with the desire of running more frequently at Santa Anita than the current four-month meeting from Dec. 26 to late April.

At that meeting, Stronach agreed to lease Santa Anita to Oak Tree for a five-week meeting this fall, after the existing lease between the track and Oak Tree was voided earlier this year following the banrukptcy of Magna Entertainment, another Stronach-controlled subsidiary. Magna International took over management of Santa Anita following the bankruptcy of Magna Entertainment.

But in recent weeks, there has been concern among horsemen about the condition of the Santa Anita main track. The racing board has hired noted racetrack expert Mick Peterson of the University of Maine to conduct a safety study on Santa Anita’s Pro-Ride synthetic track. Peterson said last week that rocks have risen from the sub-surface into the upper layer of the surface, but thought the issue could be fixed.

Racing board officials said they want a report on the surface before Thursday’s meeting to determine whether it would be ready for the Oak Tree meeting, which starts on Sept. 29. Peterson said last week that he will deliver a preliminary report on his findings at the racing board meeting, and will issue a more elaborate report later this month.

At the June racing board meeting, Stronach said he would explore replacing Santa Anita’s existing Pro-Ride surface in 2011 with a new surface consisting largely of silica sand, with cloth fibers mixed into the surface, that will be installed at the Palm Meadows training center in Florida this fapll. The surface has been used at equestrian centers in Spain and in Austria. Stronach said that by using the surface at the training center feedback can be gained from trainers and jockeys before the surface is used on a racetrack.