04/20/2008 11:00PM

Support grows for synthetic surface


ARCADIA, Calif. - After a series of meetings with trainers and owners at Santa Anita on Sunday, Frank Stronach, whose Magna Entertainment owns the track, said he was leaning toward going with a synthetic surface at the track rather than replacing it with a dirt surface, according to several people at the meetings.

The situation remains in flux, though, according to Ron Charles, Santa Anita's president. On Monday, Charles said Santa Anita will do "a number of tests on the existing track."

"We want to look at the existing surface from every angle so that we have a high confidence level, not only for the Breeders' Cup, but for the next couple of years," Charles said.

Santa Anita is scheduled to play host to the Breeders' Cup in October, and again in 2009.

During its winter meeting, which closed Sunday, Santa Anita lost 11 days of racing because of the inability of its synthetic main track to drain properly. That surface was manufactured by Cushion Track.

In late January, another synthetic surface company, Pro-Ride, was brought in to try to make the surface viable. There were no cancellations after Pro-Ride reconstituted the Santa Anita main track. Charles said the work done by Pro-Ride's Ian Pearse was "nothing short of amazing."

"To take what he took, and make it useful for racing, to get through the rain and have a surface that was kinder for the horses, and do all that in four days - he saved the meeting," Charles said.

Still, Charles added, "We want to see what we can improve upon, and do some environmental tests."

Charles said the tests are designed to make sure the surface is still draining properly, and to look at the asphalt base.

There also were complaints from the gate crew during the meet that the synthetic surface gave off a strong odor at times, a concern trainer Bruce Headley said he brought up at the meeting.

"If everything's fine, we'll know which way we want to go," Charles said.

Charles has been in favor of synthetic surfaces, while Stronach has preferred dirt surfaces. Trainers who attended a closed-door meeting with Stronach on Sunday said Stronach initially seemed desirous of returning to a dirt surface, but was respectful of the wishes of the trainers, the majority of whom prefer a synthetic surface.

"He wanted to hear what the trainers thought about the synthetic tracks," trainer Ed Moger Jr. said of Stronach. "A lot of the trainers were strongly in favor of the synthetic. He seemed very concerned. He wants to do what's best. I'm sure Mr. Stronach probably has a bad taste in his mouth over synthetics."

"Most favor the way it is now, but some would like to return to dirt," trainer David Hofmans said. "It was a good, open exchange. I'm 100 percent in favor of synthetics. I think it's a godsend to the industry." - additional reporting by Steve Andersen