07/19/2010 5:36PM

Tedesco's the go-to man for Del Mar's surface

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Barbara D. Livingston
Richard Tedesco, who worked on Santa Anita's surface, has also been hired at Del Mar.

DEL MAR, Calif. – Richard Tedesco ought to arrive at work on a white pony wearing a white cowboy hat. He’s the good guy, sent to clean up the wayward town.

Tedesco, a track superintendent with more than 40 years of experience, rode to the rescue at Santa Anita, where he was asked to get that track’s Pro-Ride surface, which would not drain, to drain. Through much trial and very little error, he salvaged the main winter meet, further enhancing the trust trainers have bestowed upon him since he worked at Hollywood Park decades ago.

Now, Tedesco has also been hired at Del Mar, where he will try to lasso this track’s enigmatic Polytrack surface. Of the three synthetic surfaces at the premier Southern California racetracks, Del Mar’s has been the most polarizing, with horsemen generally praising it for training in the morning but showing less enthusiasm for its performance in the afternoon since first installed for the 2007 meet.

At both Santa Anita and Del Mar, Tedesco has replaced Steve Wood, who managed the main tracks at both facilities for years when they were dirt. Those main tracks became so unsatisfactory that the California Horse Racing Board mandated in 2006 a switch to synthetic surfaces – although Del Mar was going to switch even if there had been no mandate. Wood was quietly let go by Del Mar after last summer’s meet, and Tedesco has been brought on board.

Known for his candor, good humor, and accessibility to trainers, Tedesco has dove right in but admits he has a moving target.

“It’s a learning curve, but we’re making a lot of progress,” Tedesco said just days before the meet opened. “This surface is a lot different than Santa Anita’s. Santa Anita’s hardly has any binder in it. This has binder. We’re trying to maintain the consistency from the morning to the afternoon. This track changes so much depending on the temperature. Santa Anita, not as much.”

Tedesco said his crew begins by power-harrowing the track every night at 1 a.m., about four hours before the track opens for training. “That loosens the very top because it gets tight when it’s cool and overcast,” Tedesco said.

Throughout the morning and, Tedesco anticipates, even more so in the afternoon for racing, water will be applied, the amount dependent on air temperature and the amount of sun hitting the surface. Last weekend, for training, Tedesco said he liberally applied water in the mornings when it was quite hot but used less when overcast conditions kept things cooler.

“In the afternoons, we’re going to water whatever it takes to maintain some kind of form,” he said. “You can’t say every day you’re going to throw so much water on it because it depends on the weather and the marine layer. We will water, but you can’t determine the amount until you see how much it needs.”

Tedesco, 73, has been working on track surfaces since 1964, when he began an association with Hollywood Park that lasted until 2000. He said the synthetic surfaces need “just as much maintenance, if not more,” than dirt surfaces.

“Everybody said these were low-maintenance, or no-maintenance, and that was BS,” he said. “Dirt doesn’t change with the temperature. It’s consistently dirt.”

There is a palpable sense of confidence from trainers regarding Tedesco, who said, “The trainers have been really good to me.”

“They all have my back. I appreciate it,” Tedesco said.

“So far, the track looks real good to me,” said trainer Richard Mandella.

Trainer Mark Glatt said the track “seems like it has a lot more moisture in it.”

“Hopefully it’s good, safe for the horses, and fair gambling-wise,” Glatt said.

“The track’s been very good,” said Dan Ward, the top local assistant to trainer Jerry Hollendorfer. “The legs all feel a lot better – ankles, joints, and feet. When you stand there, you can’t hear them go by. I’ve got a couple who were not going good before they came here who seem happier now.”

One factor that may aid Tedesco is less morning traffic on this surface compared with years past. The horse population on the circuit is down from last year. In addition, a number of trainers are electing to train this summer at Hollywood Park and ship for Del Mar’s races, rather than stable here, in part to reduce costs in tough economic times.

“I think that will give the track a chance to be a little better,” said John Sadler, Del Mar’s leading trainer the last two seasons.