06/21/2006 11:00PM

Trainers ponder change of surface

Shawn Coady / Coady Photography
Oaklawn Handicap winner Buzzards Bay is regrouping after his loss last weekend.

INGLEWOOD, Calif. - Trainers based at Hollywood Park reacted with guarded optimism on Thursday regarding the track's decision to install a synthetic surface later this summer, with some expressing relief that the current dirt course will be replaced and others wondering how their horses will handle training on a new surface.

Hollywood Park announced on Wednesday that Equestrian Surfaces of Burnley, England, has been chosen to install a synthetic surface. The new surface will be ready for training in September and used for racing during the fall meeting, which begins on Nov. 1.

The synthetic track, known as Cushion Track, consists of silica sand mixed with synthetic fibers, elastic fiber, and granulated rubber. The material is coated with a blend of wax.

The Cushion Track materials will be mixed in England and shipped to California by sea in late July, arriving approximately Aug. 21, according to racing secretary Martin Panza. He said the sand that Equestrian Surfaces uses is available in England. The company produces the materials needed for the racetrack.

When the material arrives, Hollywood Park is scheduled to have already removed its current track and completed the installation of 4 1/2 miles of drainage pipe and a base of porous rocks. The installation of the racing surface is scheduled to be completed by Aug. 28, according to track president Jack Liebau. The barn area is scheduled to reopen by the end of the Del Mar meeting on Sept. 6.

Hollywood Park will be the first track to race on a Cushion Track. Liebau said that being the first to use a Cushion Track for racing is "not really" a concern.

"I have looked at various surfaces and this is used on [training] gallops in England," he said.

Several trainers said that a change from the current surface is needed to reduce injuries to horses, but are uncertain what to expect from the new surface.

"I'm in support of change," trainer Mike Puype said. "I don't like the way the track changes now. I don't know enough about what they've picked, but I think it's a move forward."

Trainer Marty Jones said that when his horses return from Del Mar he will take a cautious approach to training in the initial days.

"I don't think we'll know more until we train over it," Jones said. "Hopefully, it will be worth it. I think it will be a learning process for trainers."

Mark Glatt, who has a 25-horse stable, is welcome of any change. "Anything can be better," he said. "I'm glad something is starting up."

Hollywood Park and California's four other major Thoroughbred tracks are required to install synthetic surfaces by the end of 2007 by mandate of the California Horse Racing Board. Many observers believe that synthetic surfaces are safer than conventional dirt surfaces, providing less concussion for horses and reducing injuries.

"When you make a change, that scares people," Panza said. "It's an $8 million investment. It's probably the single most important thing the state can do to get horses based here. I think we'll have a surface that will be umpteen times better than any surface in California."

Paul Aguirre, who stables at Hollywood Park on a year-round basis, does not feel the need for a change in surfaces, despite the CHRB's order.

"I think they have a good racetrack here, but it has to be consistent," Aguirre said. "When it's right, it's a good surface."

Trainer John Shirreffs wonders what effect the new surface will have on his stable.

"When you go from one surface to another surface, you worry about the fitness level," Shirreffs said. "At this point, we have to hope they made a good decision. When you go into something unknown, there is a little concern. That's where we're headed."

Buzzards Bay to skip Gold Cup

Buzzards Bay, the winner of the Oaklawn Handicap who was fourth in the Stephen Foster Handicap at Churchill Downs last weekend, will pass the $750,000 Hollywood Gold Cup on July 8 but could start at Del Mar, trainer Ron Ellis said.

Buzzards Bay finished two lengths behind 91-1 Seek Gold in the Stephen Foster. He was second for the first six furlongs while racing very wide and missed third by a neck.

"We didn't run our 'A' race," Ellis said.

Ellis is taking a conservative approach to Buzzards Bay's late summer and fall campaign, saying the 4-year-old will have two starts before the Breeders' Cup Classic at Churchill Downs in November. One possibility is the $1 million Pacific Classic at Del Mar on Aug. 20.

Owned by Gary and Wendy Broad, Buzzards Bay has won 5 of 16 starts and $1,147,507.

"What I'll do is regroup," Ellis said. "I still think he's a Breeders' Cup horse. We'll figure out a plan to get there."