01/26/2008 1:00AM

Weekend races are in jeopardy


ARCADIA, Calif. - Heavy rain and hail forced the cancellation of racing Thursday at Santa Anita because of continuing drainage problems with the track's synthetic Cushion Track surface. Racing on Friday was in doubt, and a dire weather forecast had track executives fretting over whether they could play host to the four California-based races of Saturday's Sunshine Millions.

Ron Charles, Santa Anita's president and chief executive officer, said the track had already decided to cancel racing on Monday and Thursday - Tuesday and Wednesday are dark days - to begin reconstituting the embattled Cushion Track surface on Sunday night with material from another synthetic surface manufacturer, Pro-Ride. Charles said he believes it will take approximately four days to mix in the new Pro-Ride material, which promoted proper drainage in lab tests at the University of Southern California earlier this month.

Ian Pearse, the founder of Pro-Ride, has returned from Australia to oversee the work. The process could not have been started sooner because all the material, including polymers manufactured by Pro-Ride, was not available until now.

"Monday through Friday of next week, we've got a clear shot," Charles said. "There's less than a 20 percent chance of rain on any of those days. Right now, the most critical thing is to get the track fixed so the remainder of the meet we don't have this hanging over our head.

"From what I've seen, with two different scientists and Ian Pearse, I'm very, very confident it will work. It'll be safer, kinder, more of what we thought we were buying into in the first place with a synthetic surface."

Santa Anita was hit by 1 1/2 inches of rain on Wednesday night, which Charles said was handled by the track. But at approximately 5 a.m. Thursday, a squall came through the area and dumped two inches of hail, which looked pretty but proved ugly.

"The status of the track dramatically changed at 5 o'clock," said Charles, looking as if he had barely slept, during a press conference shortly after noon Thursday in Santa Anita's press box. Charles said the two inches of hail "hit, melted, and went into a surface we know won't handle a lot of water and won't drain."

Racing on Thursday was canceled shortly after 10 a.m. Pacific, approximately three hours before first post. That marked the fourth cancellation at the meet, which began Dec. 26. Improper drainage of Cushion Track also forced the cancellation of racing Jan. 5-7.

The forecast for the next few days was not encouraging. According to Weather.com, showers, some with thunder, were to hit Thursday afternoon, and there was a 70 percent chance of rain overnight Thursday, with anywhere from two to four inches of rain predicted for the foothills.

There was a 60 percent chance of rain on Friday, and a 70 percent chance on Saturday. The storm expected to arrive on Saturday has the potential to bring heavy to excessive rain Saturday night into Sunday, according to Weather.com.

Charles and George Haines, the vice president and general manager of Santa Anita, said moving racing, in particular the Sunshine Millions, to either Golden Gate Fields or Hollywood Park was near impossible logistically. There were two major impediments. According to Haines, new tote equipment installed for live racing this meet at Santa Anita by Scientific Games has not been tested on a wide scale at Hollywood Park, which currently is open only for simulcasting and thus operates a limited number of machines. In addition, Hollywood Park lets its turf course go dormant during the winter before being re-seeded, so there is no possibility of having grass racing there at this time.

Charles said the most recent round of wet weather made it imperative to reconstitute the track as soon as possible.

"The first break in the weather, we're going to fix the track," Charles said.

He said the track does not have to be completely dry for the work to commence.

"If you scrape off the top two inches, the material is not as wet," Charles said. "We can begin mixing in the polymers and fibers."

In order to race over the next few days before the work begins, Charles said track superintendent Richard Tedesco will scrape material off the top and that "we would have a safe racetrack."

"We're stuck with a very unfamiliar surface. It won't drain. It won't dry. You can only scrape it," Charles said. "It's not made to be sealed. We're in uncharted waters."