03/19/2008 11:00PM

Trainer poll favors synthetic surfaces

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ARCADIA, Calif. - A majority of trainers based at Santa Anita want to race and train their stables on a synthetic surface, according to a survey conducted recently by the California Thoroughbred Trainers. The results of the survey were presented to Santa Anita management on Tuesday in a two-page letter written by the executive director of the trainers' group, Ed Halpern.

The survey asked trainers whether Santa Anita should replace its racing surface with a synthetic track or a dirt track. Of the 92 trainers who submitted responses, 41 marked that they "strongly preferred" a synthetic surface, and 15 "preferred" a synthetic surface. There were 12 trainers who expressed "no preference," while seven responded that they "preferred" dirt and 17 "strongly preferred" dirt.

Santa Anita officials said last month that they plan to replace the existing synthetic surface later this year after drainage problems led to the cancellation of 11 days of racing in January and early February. The track underwent an emergency five-day renovation to repair the problem last month. Since the renovation, no additional racing days have been lost.

Santa Anita president Ron Charles confirmed Thursday that the track has not decided whether to replace the existing surface with a dirt or synthetic surface.

Halpern said there are 115 trainers with horses at Santa Anita, and that the poll was restricted to those trainers. Southern California trainers based at Fairplex Park, Hollywood Park, and San Luis Rey Downs were not included in the survey.

Trainers were given an opportunity to express comments. Halpern said that trainers who expressed support for a synthetic track said that such surfaces have led to more horses remaining in training.

"A couple of big trainers said that if Santa Anita went to dirt, they'd move to Hollywood," he said.

Hollywood has a Cushion Track surface.

Halpern said he sent the letter to Santa Anita's president, Ron Charles, and to Frank Stronach, the chairman of Magna Entertainment Corp., the track 's owner.

"I don't know if it's our job to sell [synthetic surfaces] or report what we're finding," Halpern said. He added that the California Thoroughbred Trainers' board of directors has expressed support for Santa Anita to have a synthetic surface.

Charles, who was at Magna headquarters in Aurora, Ontario, on Thursday, said he had seen the letter. He said the future of Santa Anita's racing surface would be a topic of discussion at meetings he was attending there.