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Santa Anita to replace turf course this year

ARCADIA, Calif. -- Santa Anita will replace its turf course with a Bermuda grass surface this summer in advance of an autumn meeting highlighted by the Breeders' Cup races on Nov. 4-5, track senior vice president Joe Morris said on Sunday.

The transition is scheduled to begin in July following the conclusion of the spring-summer meeting July 10. The track's autumn meeting starts Sept. 29.

Morris said meetings are taking place this month to organize the change.

"We'll probably look at laying down some Bermuda," Morris said. "We're meeting this week on what we'll do."

He said the break between the spring-summer meeting and the autumn meeting allows sufficient time to replace the existing surface, which is rye and Bermuda turf.

"It gives us close to three months," he said.

The course has been used sparingly in some ways during the current winter-spring meeting. Before the season began Dec. 26, the track announced that there would be no turf workouts, which were typically held twice a week in good weather.

The course was not used for racing Jan. 7-10 after approximately five inches of rain fell Jan. 5-7. Morris said the course took an inch of rain Wednesday and early Thursday, leading to the removal of races from the hillside turf course from Friday through Sunday. There was no turf racing Friday, but races were run on the oval portion of the course Saturday and Sunday.

Morris emphasized that track policy is to take a cautious approach to running races on the hillside following wet weather to ensure adequate footing. Over the weekend, the hillside portion of the turf course underwent renovation that included fertilizing, mowing, and rolling the course in an effort to promote growth, Morris said.

The entire course will be renovated in a similar fashion in April during the Los Alamitos spring meeting, in advance of the spring-summer meeting May 5.

"In April, we'll continue the same maintenance," Morris said.

The existing course came under scrutiny last autumn for producing more divots and kickback than usual. In November and December, maintenance crews cut the course to a low level and essentially regrew the surface before the start of the winter-spring meeting.

In recent months, the temporary rail settings have been altered as often as twice a week to allow runners to race on ground that was as fresh as possible and to avoid deterioration.

There are two turf races scheduled for Thursday and Friday, including a sprint on the hillside course Friday.

Jockeys have said that the kickback is not as severe at the current meeting as it was last fall, but that the condition of the course remains an issue.

"It's still a little loose," jockey Joe Talamo said.

Talamo said the course was once in "unbelievable" condition, and he's hopeful that it can be restored to better condition.

"When they get it right, it will be good," he said.